If Republican voters were hoping for a wide open presidential race this holiday season, they are clearly getting their wish. A new FOX News poll shows that Rudy Giuliani (20 percent), John McCain (19 percent) and the surging Mike Huckabee (19 percent) are clustered together at the top of the GOP hill—with Mitt Romney (11 percent) and Fred Thompson (10 percent) still within striking distance. Since a large share of Republican voters are still undecided (13 percent), this race is about as "up for grabs" as any in recent memory.
Giuliani suffered the biggest drop in support since November, losing a full 13 points. On the other hand, Huckabee has shot up from 8 percent in November to 19 percent in the current poll. Romney (up 3 percent) and McCain (up 2 percent) scored small gains in the last month.
As has been widely reported, the overall character of the Republican race has changed dramatically over the last several months. In fact, as late as September, Huckabee registered only 2 percent in a FOX News poll. Barely three months later he is a now co-front-runner.
Giuliani’s hefty 24-point lead from February has essentially vanished. McCain lost some momentum last August, when he was in fourth place with only 7 percent support. Today, he enjoys a resurgence that has been somewhat overshadowed by the "Huckaboom."
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 likely voters for FOX News from December 18 to December 19. The poll has a 3 point error margin.
The poll also found that nearly 6 in 10 voters nationwide (59 percent) know that Romney is a member of the Mormon faith—with Republicans (63 percent) being slightly more likely than Democrats (59 percent) to have that knowledge.
Moreover, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of likely voters say Romney’s religion would make "no difference" to them in deciding whether or not to vote for him for president. While independent voters are the most likely to take this view (80 percent), large shares of both Democrats (70 percent) and Republicans (74 percent) also feel this way.
However, when placed in a slightly different electoral context, only one-quarter of all likely voters (25 percent) and about one-third (32 percent) of Republican likely voters say they would vote for Romney as "the first Mormon president in 2008."
With so much discussion of religion in the GOP primaries, it is noteworthy that Republicans are just about evenly divided on whether elected officials should (47 percent) or should not (45 percent) let their religious beliefs influence policy decisions.
On the endorsement front, fully 62 percent of likely Republicans say Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain makes "no difference" to them in deciding their vote.
According to the poll, a majority of likely Republican primary voters (52 percent) think their candidates show real differences on the issues—which could move the race away from personalities toward more substance down the stretch.
On a range of candidate attributes, McCain is viewed by Republican voters as the most "authentic" (25 percent), "honest and trustworthy" (24 percent) and the candidate that "has clear stands on the issues" (23 percent).
Giuliani gets the nod for "experience" (28 percent), being a "strong leader" (36 percent), and doing "anything to win" (25 percent). Huckabee does best on being "a real conservative" (21 percent), and having "strong moral character" (23 percent). On this last attribute, McCain follows closely with 20 percent.