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In May polling, Giuliani tops the field of GOP hopefuls

WASHINGTON -- Republicans overwhelmingly want Ronald Reagan. But for the moment, they'll take Rudy Giuliani.

A comprehensive poll of 2,000 Republicans unveiled yesterday portrays a party in search of a leader, with the overwhelming majority hoping for someone like the former president. But when faced with the slate of 10 announced GOP candidates and two other potential contenders, those surveyed favored former New York mayor Giuliani across the board, with even so-called "moralists" preferring the candidate who has drawn fire from conservatives because of his divorces and his support of abortion rights.

"Giuliani is universally known to all Republicans," and scores high on leadership qualities among primary voters, said Tony Fabrizio, the GOP pollster who directed the comprehensive study. Among a 12-man field, Giuliani drew 30 percent support, followed by Arizona Senator John McCain with 17 percent, former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee with 15 percent. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has not announced a run, received 9 percent each.

Giuliani did startlingly well among "moralist" voters, pulling more than 20 percent support among respondents who described themselves as heavy churchgoers opposed to abortion and gay marriage, Fabrizio said. "That presents a huge problem for someone trying to be the consensus conservative and take him on," he said.

Further, 60 percent of the GOP voters said they could vote for a candidate even if they disagreed with his position on abortion, suggesting the issue is not a campaign-killer for Giuliani.

Fabrizio warned that the voter support is soft; 74 percent of respondents said they could still change their minds, and some may already have done so; the polling was completed in May, Fabrizio said.

But the survey -- titled "The Elephant Looks in the Mirror Ten Years Later," a follow-up to a similar study conducted a decade ago -- foreshadows some troubles for the GOP presidential nominee next year , whoever it is .

More than a third of the GOP voters said they wanted an immediate or scheduled withdrawal of troops from Iraq, a trend Fabrizio said is likely only to grow over the next year unless the situation in Iraq improves dramatically. Nearly all GOP presidential contenders have rejected a timetable for withdrawal.

Leaving McCain camp
CONCORD, N.H. -- A state lawmaker said yesterday that he could no longer support Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign because of the senator's involvement in the proposed immigration bill in Congress. But McCain's campaign countered that state Representative D.J. Bettencourt stepped down as co chairman for the effort in Rockingham County only after asking for -- and being refused -- a paycheck.

"I have told the McCain campaign that I would withdraw my support as his Rockingham County co chairman if Senator McCain continued to push for amnesty for illegal aliens," Bettencourt said.

"Although earlier I publicly endorsed Senator McCain, I cannot, in good conscience, continue to support him. . . . We must enforce the laws on our books, not provide amnesty for millions of people who have broken the law since the moment they stepped on our soil."

In e-mails provided by the McCain campaign, Bettencourt, 23, said he had been offered a paid position with the Romney campaign and "they are on the hunt for conservatives."

"While I love Senator McCain, the next few years are going to be financially difficult for me -- next year with graduate school and law school following that -- and thus I must at least entertain some thought on the offer ," Bettencourt wrote to a McCain staffer earlier this month.

A Romney spokesman said Bettencourt is not on the payroll, was not offered a job, and the issue of money never came up during discussions with him . (AP)

Edwards seizes on attack
WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said yesterday that conservative author Ann Coulter's attacks are hurtful. Meanwhile, his campaign used her remarks in an appeal for money.

Edwards made his first comments to the Associated Press in response to Coulter's suggestion that she wished he would be "killed in a terrorist assassination plot." His campaign cited her remarks in two e-mails to supporters for donations, with the fund-raising deadline Saturday.

In March, she called the former US senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate "a faggot." The campaign used video of the comment to help raise $300,000 before the end of the first quarter.