WASHINGTON -- Rudolph W. Giuliani has been well ahead of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in nationwide polls, but he is far weaker in the crucial states that will cast early votes in the nominating process, according to a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that underscores how unsettled the GOP race remains.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, trails Mitt Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire among Republican voters and lags behind Fred Thompson in South Carolina. But Giuliani is only a few points behind the former Massachusetts governor in New Hampshire and the former senator from Tennessee in South Carolina - within the poll's margin of error - suggesting that the race in those two states is too tight for anyone to be declared a clear front-runner.
In a worrisome finding for all the Republican candidates, the poll also found that many voters in those key states are only lightly committed to their choices. For example, 72 percent of Iowa Republicans who favored a candidate said they might decide to back someone else.
Among Democrats in those three states, by contrast, the race is more firmly settled: The poll found that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has consolidated her lead on a sturdy foundation of support among women, blacks and, in some states, labor union households, while her rivals have so far failed to cut into her lead.
And while Clinton had established leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, she appears to be gaining momentum in Iowa, long considered to be more friendly territory for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
The poll was based on a survey of registered voters who planned to participate in the three early primaries or caucuses. It was conducted Sept. 6-10, just after Thompson announced that he was joining the presidential race. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points; among Iowa Democrats, it was 4 percentage points.
Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are three of the most important states that start the presidential voting season in January. With the field so crowded, many strategists worry that a candidate's campaign will collapse without a strong showing in at least one of the three.
Janet Hook and Peter Wallsten write for the Los Angeles Times.