Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to lead public-opinion polls in the battle for the Republican Party's U.S. presidential nomination. But as VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports, political experts see the Republican race as a wide-open affair with several strong contenders.
Giuliani leads in the polls, but the margin is much smaller compared with Hillary Clinton's advantage over the Democratic presidential field.
Giuliani faces a strong challenge from former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Arizona Senator John McCain, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Several other Republican contenders are lagging behind in the polls.
Giuliani's lead is a surprise of sorts because his stands on social issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control are at odds with conservatives within the Republican Party.
The former New York mayor argues that Republicans should nominate him because he would be the strongest candidate to take on Hillary Clinton, if she becomes the Democratic Party nominee. "I run the most competitive against Hillary Clinton by a big, big margin. And I take some Democratic states from her. Nobody else does that," he said.
Political experts say Giuliani remains atop the Republican field because voters give him high marks for leadership in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"There is no Republican frontrunner, and from an analytic point of view, there may not be a Republican candidate right now who can even be nominated. Rudy Giuliani is slightly ahead in the polls, but he has some severe problems with Republican base voters on his position on social issues like abortion and gay rights," said American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman.
Other analysts also see the Republican race as wide open.
"I think the Republican race is muddled and I also think [in] the Republican race there is a general depression that is shared by many Republicans," said Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "They are depressed about the Bush administration, the unpopularity of the president and the lack of success in Iraq. And they are depressed that none of the four principal Republican candidates is really energizing the base, is really turning them on."
That sense of uncertainty about the Republican field is also being felt in early primary states like New Hampshire. "On the Republican side, it is really a free for all. In fact, I think this might be the most wide-open Republican presidential primary in the history of the New Hampshire primary," said Dante Scala, who teaches politics at the University of New Hampshire.
Social conservatives make up a key voting bloc within the Republican Party. But so far, they have not picked a favorite among the top contenders that include Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
"The race in the Republican Party is a chest-thumping, meat-chewing one about who is the biggest, toughest commander-in-chief. And you know, on that basis, Rudy Giuliani is going to win that fight every time," said Richard Wolffe, White House correspondent for Newsweek magazine and a guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.
Lichtman also notes that Americans traditionally are more open to a change in party control of the White House after one party has been in power for eight years, as is the case with President Bush. "George Bush's approval rating is still under 40 percent and the war in Iraq is still extremely unpopular and he has not been able to make, obviously, any headway on domestic policy. So it is not the kind of situation where you would expect the party in power to be able elect someone to take over for a sitting president," he said.
Scala has also picked up similar signs of concern among Republicans in his state. "I think the under riding issue is just this real worry about the future of the party, real worry about the Bush administration and what it has done to the Republican Party. And there is a sense of fear among Republicans, and disappointment among Republican voters that you do not see on the Democratic side," he said.
The lack of a strong frontrunner in the Republican field could provide the opportunity for a less well known contender to emerge in one of the early party caucuses or primaries that determine the party nominees.
The earliest contest will take place in Iowa where Iowa State University expert Steffen Schmidt is keeping an eye on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "There is always the possibility of surprises in a very unstable environment such as this, and I think Governor Huckabee is a good possibility," he said.
Iowa begins the nominating process by holding party caucuses in early January.
Republicans will formally nominate their presidential candidate at their national convention in September in Minneapolis-St. Paul.