John McCain, long ago the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has been polling a distant fourth in national surveys in recent weeks (behind Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson), and even polled in fifth place behind Mike Huckabee in the latest Rasmussen poll.
Despite these lagging numbers, John McCain is unquestionably the most competitive Republican in battleground states—states that must be won by Republicans to retain its hold on the White House.
A series of SurveyUSA battleground state polls posing matchups of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama against Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain, find McCain performing an average of 6 points better than Giuliani, 13 points better than Romney, and 17 points better than Huckabee. The polls were conducted in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, and Oregon from November 9-11 of registered voters.
Neither Romney nor Huckabee lead Clinton or Obama in matchups in any of these 7 states.
Giuliani only holds an advantage of 4 points over Obama in Minnesota, 8 points over Obama in Ohio, and 1 point over Clinton in Missouri.
By contrast, McCain is leading the Democrats in most matchups across these states:
* McCain leads Obama by 3 points in Minnesota, 4 in Wisconsin, 15 in Ohio, and 10 in Virginia. The two candidates were tied in Oregon.
* McCain also leads Clinton by 3 points in Oregon, 9 points in Virginia, 4 points in Iowa, and 1 point in Ohio.
The problem demonstrated by this battleground state data for Clinton and Giuliani is that while they remain the most popular candidates among the base of the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, neither seems to be able to gather the crossover or independent votes that McCain can deliver.
This opening lays the groundwork for the possibility of a strong third party run in the 2008 presidential election.