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New poll shows big shake-up in GOP race

  • Story Highlights
  • Rudy Giuliani leads Mike Huckabee 24 percent to 22 percent in new poll
  • Giuliani's 2-point lead is within poll's margin of error
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton leading Sen. Barack Obama 40 percent to 30 percent
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington bureau
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Mike Huckabee's dramatic jump in the polls is going nationwide. The former Arkansas governor is in a virtual tie with Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll out Monday.

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Mike Huckabee is now the front-runner in the polls in Iowa.

Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, is backed by 24 percent of Republican voters nationally while Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is at 22 percent.

The two-point difference is well within the survey's sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is at 16 percent in the new poll, followed by Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 12 percent, Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee at 10 percent, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 6 percent, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California at 2 percent and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado at 1 percent. View complete poll results »

The poll, conducted December 6-9, involved nationwide telephone interviews with 377 registered Republicans voters or independent voters who lean Republican.

Huckabee is now the front-runner in the polls in Iowa, the first state to vote in the presidential primary process, taking the top spot from Romney, and he's also jumped dramatically in South Carolina, the first southern state to vote.

Now he appears to be on the rise in national surveys as well. Two nationwide polls last week, Gallup/USA Today and Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg, put him in second place.

Huckabee doubled his support in October and doubled it again in November, going from 5 percent in October to double digits last month to more than 20 percent this month, in the CNN poll.

"Huckabee's strength so far may be a positive, values-oriented message," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. "He ranks first when GOP voters are asked who shares their Republican values and who has spent the least time criticizing his opponents. He also scores well on likeability and believability, although Giuliani beats him on those measures.

If Huckabee has an Achilles' heel, it's his lack of experience, Holland said. "Huckabee places fourth, behind Giuliani, McCain and Romney, when Republicans are asked to rate the GOP candidates on experience."

Huckabee jumped 12 points in the CNN poll in the last month, but he's not the only Republican White House hopeful on the rise in the CNN survey. Romney is up 5 points, from 11 percent to 16 percent.

Going the other way in the poll is Thompson, who dropped nine points.

The race is also tightening on the Democratic side. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is still the front-runner, with 40 percent of Democratic voters backing her in the new CNN poll, down from 44 percent last month.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is in second place at 30 percent, up from 25 percent last month. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina remains in third place at 14 percent. The remaining Democratic White House hopefuls are all in single digits nationally.

The poll's margin of error for the Democratic race was 4.5 percentage points. The poll involved telephone interviews with 467 Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic.

"What's the headline from our new national poll? Front-runners beware. Someone's gaining on you," said CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who added that "a similar thing is happening in both parties. Candidates are emerging who are likeable and who appeal to the party's base, but Clinton and Giuliani are still seen as the strongest nominees."

"Obama's support has not hit 30 percent in any national poll since July; the fact that he has cracked that barrier this close to the start of the primary season indicates that he may finally be chipping away at Clinton's core constituency," Holland said.

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But Holland added that "Clinton remains the Democrat to beat. Forty percent in a late-December poll is a position most candidates in past years would envy.

"Democratic voters see Obama as the most likeable candidate and the one who is least likely to act like a typical politician," Holland said. "He ties with Clinton on believability and the ability to unite the country, but loses badly to her on experience and electability. Moderate Democrats think Clinton shares their values; liberal Democrats feel that way about Obama." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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