A new poll released today by Rasmussen Reports reveals a shakeup in the running order of the 2008 GOP primary field. Rudy Giuliani still leads but his support has slipped to its lowest level of the year. Giuliani now has the support of only 23% of Republican primary voters. The big surprise is that soon to be formally declared candidate Fred Thompson places second in the poll with 17% of support. Mitt Romney stays in third with 15%, and Sen. John McCain has fallen to fourth with 14%. Giuliani is down two points from the same poll taken a week ago, and has seen a steady erosion in his support over the past few months from the mid-30’s to now the low 20’s.

Thompson’s good showing isn’t much of a surprise because he has been the flavor of the month as far as media speculation about his candidacy is concerned. By positioning himself as a true conservative, he has also scooped up support from those voters within the GOP who are not happy with the choices they have been offered for 2008. Thompson will probably continue to do well until he is a formal candidate. Thompson has lower name recognition than Giuliani or McCain, but carries a 59% favorability rating, which shows that voters don’t know much about him, but they like the idea of a fresh alternative.

As far as favorability ratings are concerned, Romney is viewed favorably by 56%. Giuliani and McCain have the highest favorability ratings at 85% and 63% respectively. The interesting thing about Giuliani is that Republicans overwhelmingly personally like him, but they aren’t sold on him as their presidential nominee. The big story here is John McCain, who is putting on a clinic on how to undermine your own campaign. McCain’s latest drop in the polls can be tied to his support of the current immigration reform bill that is being debated in Congress. Only 26% of Americans and 9% of Republicans support this bill. Because of his support of the immigration bill, McCain’s favorability rating in his home state of Arizona has fallen to 47%. This is amazing when one considers that only 6 short months ago McCain was considered the GOP frontrunner, but now he may have to fight just to stay in the race.

The continuing problem for the GOP is that Fred Thompson fares about the same as Rudy Giuliani in hypothetical general election match ups. Thompson trails Clinton by three points, 47%-44. He trails Obama by ten points, 47%-37%, and trails John Edwards by 14 points, 50%-36%. When voting records are compared, Fred Thompson is a lot like John McCain without the overt support of the Iraq war. Thompson’s candidacy makes a fine alternative to liberal social policies of Rudy, and he also has the effect of making the GOP primary a four person race. With Thompson’s entry into the race, the lower tier of the GOP primary field becomes irrelevant. I don’t think Thompson can beat any of the Democrats next fall, but at does provide an anti-Rudy alternative for the disenchanted conservatives to rally around.

Rasmussen Reports poll

  Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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