For the first time, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has taken the lead among the Republican field in a national poll.
The Rasmussen daily presidential tracking poll released Wednesday showed the former Arkansas governor with 20 percent, compared with Rudy Giuliani at 17 percent. Even though Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have played strong in early voting states like Iowa, Giuliani has led the field in practically every national poll since the race began.
The Rasmussen poll, an automated survey obtained through nightly phone interviews that is reported on a four-day rolling basis, showed Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain each with 13 percent. The poll of likely Republican primary voters showed former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who once held a strong second-place position, with 10 percent.
The latest survey could be a sign Huckabee's seemingly contained surges in popularity are expanding. The Baptist minister has consolidated support among Christian evangelicals and recently gave a strong performance at a GOP debate in Florida. The sudden success has come with equal surges of criticism, as his opponents attack him for raising taxes as governor and supporting tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants. He has also come under fire recently when as governor, he supported the parole of Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist who went on to rape and kill a Missouri woman after being freed.
The new poll figures conflict sharply with other recent polls. A USA Today-Gallup poll from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 showed Giuliani with 25 percent and Huckabee with 16 percent.
In the Democratic field, the Rasmussen poll also showed Hillary Clinton with her lowest level of support yet since Rasmussen began daily tracking in mid-July. The poll showed her with 34 percent, compared with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama at 24 percent and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 16 percent.
The poll gauges the views of 600 likely voters. The margin of error is 4 percent.