The latest public opinion polls on the U.S. presidential race contain good news for Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

A recent survey by ABC News and the Washington Post shows Senator Clinton leading fellow Democrat Barack Obama by 53 to 20 percent, with former Senator John Edwards in third place at 13 percent.

Clinton's poll numbers have gone up steadily in recent months, causing a number of leading Democrats to conclude she will likely be the party's nominee for president next year.

Senator Clinton is promising changes in U.S. foreign policy if she is elected. She made this vow during a recent campaign appearance in Iowa.

"You know, I will not wait until I am inaugurated," she said. "The day after I am elected, I will ask distinguished Americans of both parties to travel around the world with a very simple message, the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. America is back!"

Although Clinton holds a big lead in national polls among Democrats, she still faces tough primary challenges from Obama and Edwards in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

"Senator Clinton is the frontrunner," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "Barack Obama is a serious contender. John Edwards has the potential to really raise eyebrows if he can win in Iowa."

Experts also note that early polls are often misleading indicators of a candidate's popularity. For example, Democrat John Kerry was way back in the pack just weeks before his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire that propelled him to the party nomination in 2004.

In this election cycle, Hillary Clinton's strength is also a factor in the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

In the same ABC News-Washington Post poll, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads the Republican field with 34 percent support, followed by former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee at 17 percent, Arizona Senator John McCain at 12 percent and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 11 percent.

Giuliani argues that Republicans should pick him as their nominee, because he has the best chance to defeat Clinton in a general election match-up.

"I run the most competitive against Hillary Clinton by a big margin," he said. "And I take some Democratic states from her. Nobody else does that."

In the ABC News-Washington Post poll, Clinton leads Giuliani by a margin of 51 to 43 percent.

Although Giuliani continues to lead the Republican field in national polls, Romney has a big lead in Iowa and is tied for the lead in New Hampshire. Early victories in those two states would give the less well-known Romney a big boost in the battle for the Republican nomination.

No matter whom the Republicans nominate, political experts predict the Republican candidate will focus his fire on Hillary Clinton if she does become the Democratic Party nominee.

"A guy I know who I have been dealing with for 25 years says, 'I have seen this happen. The way you energize our party is to walk into a room and say three words, President Hillary Clinton,'" said Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News and a regular guest on VOA's Issues in the News program. "And that is what the Republicans are hoping, that specter of a President Hillary will galvanize the party. We will see, but she is very formidable at the moment."

Giuliani has come under fire in recent days from some religious conservatives in the Republican Party who question his commitment to conservative stands on abortion, gay marriage and gun control.

But analyst John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute says that Giuliani's reputation for strong leadership forged in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. is trumping so far the doubts expressed by some conservatives.

"I do think Rudy Giuliani is the frontrunner because of this," he said. "I think he is, against all odds, ahead in the national polls and been able to stay there while being pretty open about being pro-choice [pro-abortion rights] and being different on some social issues than Republicans."

Presidential contenders from both parties will intensify their campaign and advertising efforts in the weeks ahead, leading to the first votes in the U.S. presidential election process in early January in Iowa and New Hampshire.