TIME Poll: Giuliani's Lead Widens

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Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Republican Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.

If Presidential campaigning were about something other than politics, how would the current crop of candidates fare? Take speed dating. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is on wife no. 3, was judged most likely to be best at the new matchmaking technique — outdistancing Barack Obama by 3 points and New York Senator Hillary Clinton by 4, in a new TIME poll. Giuliani came in second when voters were asked to name which Presidential candidate they'd most like as a teammate on The Apprentice (5 points behind Hillary Clinton). But asked which candidate would be the best boss, they picked Giuliani again — at 18%, just ahead of both Obama and Clinton.

Of such little things, perhaps, are Presidential nominees made. According to the new TIME poll, Giuliani now leads his closest rival for the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona, by 14 points (38% to 24%) among registered Republicans and those who are leaning toward the G.O.P. In January, a TIME poll showed McCain ahead by 4 points — a startling swing of 18 points. (For the entire results of the poll, go to www.srbi.com/time_poll.html.)

The core of Giuliani's strength is in the Northeast, where he has a 50% to 23% advantage over McCain. But even in the West, he leads McCain by 5 points. The poll, conducted for TIME by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Public Affairs (SRBI), surveyed 1,144 registered voters by phone from Feb. 23 to 26. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Third among the Republicans in TIME's poll, with 12%, was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was at 7%. The rest of the Republican field polled in the very low single digits. If the G.O.P. field were limited to Giuliani, McCain and Romney, the former mayor would have a slightly more commanding lead, 49% to McCain’s 30%, with Romney at 12%.

As for the Democrats, Clinton's lead has eroded since the last TIME poll. Obama has closed to within 12 points (36% to 24%), gaining seven points since January, a reflection perhaps of the dust-up over anti-Clinton comments by Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who is now supporting Obama. The African-American component of the Democrats polled appears to be evenly split between the two senators. Former Vice President Al Gore, who has not declared his candidacy, was in third place, at 13%, while former North Carolina Senator John Edwards kept a firm hold of fourth place with 11%.

Clinton's strongest regions were the Northeast, where she holds a 42%-20% advantage over Obama; and the South, where she has a 42-19 lead. They are head-to-head in the West; and Obama leads Clinton in the Midwest, 31-28. In a three-way run-off among Clinton, Obama and Edwards, the former First Lady leads with 42% to Obama's 30% and Edwards' 22%.

In a general election, the poll showed that a Clinton versus McCain contest would be a virtual dead heat, while she would lose to Giuliani by 3%. Obama, according to the poll, would beat McCain by 4 points; but would trail Giuliani by 5.