Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) is a clear front-runner for governor in 2006 in theoretical matchups with two Democrats who have expressed interest in the job, according to a statewide poll released Monday.

The poll showed Giuliani, a Republican, leading Sen. Charles Schumer (search) 57 percent to 37 percent, and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search59 percent to 34 percent.

Giuliani, a one-time federal prosecutor, became known as America's mayor after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He has said he may get back into politics in 2006 with a run for governor or for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Hillary Rodham Clinton (search). Giuliani dropped out of the 2000 Senate race won by the then-first lady after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer (search). He was barred by term limits from running for a third term as mayor in 2001.

In a hypothetical Giuliani-Clinton race, the Marist poll had the former mayor favored by 50 percent of voters with the Democratic incumbent backed by 48 percent.

Current Gov. George Pataki (search), who easily won a third term in 2002, got a chillier reception in Monday's poll. Just 29 percent of voters said the Republican should seek a fourth term. Beset by state budget woes and a soft economy, Pataki's approval rating was at 41 percent, down from 46 percent in January.

"The economy doesn't do Pataki a whole lot of good," said pollster Lee Miringoff, who noted that 51 percent of voters believe New York is headed in the wrong direction and 62 percent believe the state is in recession.

If Pataki seeks a fourth term, the poll had Schumer at 50 percent and Pataki at 45 percent in one possible matchup. Spitzer and Pataki were about even, with Sptizer favored by 47 percent and the governor by 45 percent.

The telephone poll of 602 registered voters was conducted April 13-15 by Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion (search) and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus of 4 percentage points.