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Florida Republicans reveal views on issues, candidates

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Poll: Likely GOP primary voters in Florida oppose making gay marriage legal
  • Republican 2008 hopeful Rudy Giuliani enjoys a 21-point lead in Florida, a poll found
  • Florida primary voters view Giuliani as the most electable and the strongest leader
  • Florida viewed as Giuliani's "firewall" before Super Tuesday primaries, February 5
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington Bureau
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) -- With two months left until they go to the polls in the Florida primary, Republicans in the Sunshine State are shedding new light on how they feel about the candidates and some of the key issues in the presidential race.

A poll says Rudy Giuliani is the front-runner in Florida among likely Republican primary voters.

Likely GOP primary voters in Florida oppose making gay marriage legal, according to results of a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday evening.

But they also say abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances.

Asked whether same-sex marriages should be legal, 77 percent answered no, while 19 percent said yes.

On the issue of abortion, fewer than 20 percent said abortion should not be legal under any circumstances, while 43 percent said it should be legal under "a few" circumstances.

Nineteen percent said the procedure should be legal under all circumstances, and 15 percent said it should be legal under "most" circumstances.

Meanwhile, poll results released earlier Tuesday show Rudy Giuliani is the front-runner in the Sunshine State.

If the Florida Republican primary were held today, the former New York City mayor would finish on top with the support of 38 percent of likely primary voters, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

That's 21 points ahead of his closest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who got 17 percent. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee are tied at 11 percent.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is at 9 percent in the survey, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 5 percent, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California at 1 percent and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado at less than 1 percent. View the complete poll results »

The poll, involving telephone interviews with 300 likely Florida Republican presidential primary voters, was conducted November 25-26. The poll's margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

Giuliani's has been consistently leading just about all recent polls in Florida.

"Giuliani is seen as the GOP candidate most likely to beat the Democratic nominee next November," said CNN polling director Keating Holland.

The poll asked likely Florida Republican primary voters a number of questions regarding the GOP White House hopefuls, and Giuliani led in all of them, with 61 percent saying he's the most electable and 44 percent saying he's the strongest leader.

A plurality also feel he is the most honest and most likeable.

Another reason Giuliani is on top in Florida may be abortion. Unlike his rivals, Giuliani supports abortion rights. The CNN poll found that only about one in five Floridians think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

While Giuliani is the front-runner in the national polls, he is not on top in most of the early caucus and primary voting states.

Giuliani trails in the crucial states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He has a slight lead in Michigan and a larger lead in Nevada.

Because of that, the Giuliani campaign is banking on a big win in Florida's January 29 primary. Florida moved up the date of its primary and now will be the last state to vote before Super Tuesday on February 5.

"Florida is a pivotal state ... and it's a very vital state to Giuliani's campaign," said Bill McCollum, Florida's attorney general and Giuliani's Florida campaign chairman.

"Florida is frequently described as Giuliani's 'firewall' -- a state in which he can score a big win even if he has not met with success in the five primaries and caucuses that will be held before Floridians go to the polls," Holland said.

"Giuliani has a committed core of voters to build on in Florida. Roughly half of his supporters say they have made up their minds to vote for him, but that's not enough to win Florida all by itself," Holland said.

"One in five GOP voters say that they are waiting to see the results in those early contests before making up their minds, and those voters are up for grabs," said Holland, adding that "another 47 percent say the early states won't affect their vote but that they still haven't made up their minds."

"So with two-thirds still undecided and 20 percent waiting for the early states to weigh in before making up their minds, it's difficult, if not impossible, to predict what will happen in Florida until the primary season begins," Holland said.

Darryl Paulson, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, believes the results from the early voting states could have a profound effect on the Republican race in Florida.

"If you look at the primary vote in Florida, historically it has been a follower," Paulson said. "It looks at what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire and in the last 20 to 25 years, Florida has reaffirmed the pattern of Iowa and New Hampshire."

"In that respect, it could be a problem for Giuliani if he doesn't do particularly well in those two states," Paulson said. "And if he is way back of the pack, that could give a lot of momentum to someone like a Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson or John McCain."

Giuliani's Florida campaign chairman admits the Sunshine State strategy comes with some risks. "He will be in trouble if he doesn't win Florida," McCollum said.

Even though Florida Republicans think Giuliani is the most electable of the GOP presidential candidates, he may not fare well against Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.


Fifty-one percent said they would lean toward Clinton, compared with 42 percent for Giuliani.

The poll's margin of error for the head-to-head match-up between Giuliani and Clinton is plus or minus 3 percentage points. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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