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A year from Election Day, Clinton remains person to beat

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Clinton supported by 44 percent of Democrats polled, down from October
  • Rudy Giuliani continues to lead Republican presidential field with 28 percent
  • Clinton beats Giuliani 51 percent to 45 percent, the poll found
  • Only 42 percent think things are going well in the U.S., according to the poll
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the election of the next president a year away, Sen. Hillary Clinton remains the person to beat, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday suggests.

As the countdown begins to November 4, 2008, the New York Democrat continues to dominate the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and comes out ahead when voters are asked whether they prefer her or the GOP front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But Clinton's path to the White House is in no way certain. Clinton was criticized for her performance during a debate last week, and her rivals for the Democratic nomination have stepped up attacks that she has equivocated on her position on Iraq, Iran and other major issues.

The Republican presidential candidates have also stepped up their attacks on the Democratic front-runner, with each suggesting that he has the best chance of stopping Clinton.

The attacks may be working. The CNN/Opinion Research polls suggests that Clinton's support has slipped from its height one month ago. Video Watch CNN's Bill Schneider on the latest poll numbers »

"Clinton's strength is about where it was throughout the summer, indicating that she has lost the support she gained last month but that Obama has not yet cut into her core constituency," CNN political director Keating Holland said.

Clinton is the top choice of 44 percent of the likely Democratic voters interviewed for the poll. Her closest rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, was the top choice of 25 percent, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has 14 percent.

All other Democratic candidates were in single digits. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was backed by 4 percent, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware by 3 percent, Sen. Christopher Dodd by 2 percent, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich by 2 percent and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel was at 1 percent.

The poll involved 467 interviews conducted on November 2-4 with Democrats or independents who lean Democratic. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. View the poll results »

In an October CNN/Opinion Research poll, Clinton was supported by 51 percent of Democratic voters and had a 30 point lead over Obama.

During last week's Democratic debate, Clinton received heavy criticism from her fellow Democratic presidential rivals, who are desperate to shake up the presidential race just months before the first voting occurs in the Iowa Caucus in early January.

Edwards was particularly aggressive during the debate, criticizing Clinton for her stance on Iraq, Iran and Social Security.

"The American people ... deserve a president of the United States that they know will tell them the truth and won't say one thing one time and something different at a different time," Edwards said.

Edwards has also accused Clinton of being a "corporate Democrat" too willing to defend a "corrupt" Washington establishement.

"We desperately need in the next president someone that recognizes we have a system in Washington that's become broken, corruption has crept into it, and we have to tell the truth about that," Edwards said Monday. "If you defend that system, I don't believe you can bring about the change that America needs."

In the Republican presidential race, Giuliani continues to be the leading candidate, with the backing of 28 percent of the Republican primary voters polled. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee was backed by 19 percent. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was the top pick of 16 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had 11 percent.

Of the remaining Republican candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee received 10 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 5 percent, California Rep. Duncan Hunter 4 percent and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo 3 percent.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 397 Republicans or independents who lean Republican. The poll's margin of error was 5 percentage points.

In a head-to-head matchup of the two front-runners, Clinton leads Giuliani 51 percent to 45 percent. That lead has increased since October, when Clinton led Giuliani 49 percent to 47 percent.

"The overall political environment seems to favor the Democrats, partly because Democratic voters are more enthusiastic about the coming election and partly because the public is in a sour mood, which is usually not a good sign for the incumbent party," Holland said.

Only 42 percent of Americans think things are going well, while 58 percent think things are going badly, the poll found.

"The public is not just pessimistic about the country -- Americans are angry," Holland said. "More than eight in 10 say they are angry about the way things are going in the country."

Clinton's lead over Giuliani would be greater if a third-party candidate entered the race who believes abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, the poll found. In a three-way race, Clinton would get the support of 48 percent of voters, Giuliani 32 percent and the third-party candidate 18 percent.

The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percent.

"My analysis of it is that [a third-party candidate] is more of an attempt to keep the nomination from me," Giuliani said. "You know it is a tactic, and a legitimate one. People have to think about that and consider it.''

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The lack of enthusiasm for Giuliani, particularly by social conservatives, could spell trouble for the GOP next year if he becomes the nominee, Holland said.

"Only 27 percent of Republicans say they would feel enthusiastic if Giuliani won the GOP nod, and the remaining GOP candidates fare even worse," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Hillary ClintonBarack ObamaRudolph GiulianiFred Thompson

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