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Poll shows Giuliani leading Clinton

David Saltonstall
New York Daily News

NORTH SPARTANBURG, S.C. - This time, Rudy could win.

A poll Wednesday found that if the 2008 election for President were today, Republican Rudy Giuliani would best Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton - his almost-rival from the 2000 Senate race - in a national race for the White House.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey found Giuliani beating Clinton 48 percent to 43 percent nationally - even tying her 46 percent to 46 percent in traditionally Democratic states - and outpacing other Democratic hopefuls by even more.

So, is Clinton beatable?

"Of course Hillary is beatable, and so am I," Giuliani said Wednesday while campaigning in South Carolina. "We are all beatable."

"She may be the Democratic candidate, she may not be," added Giuliani, who dropped out of his 2000 Senate run against Clinton amid marriage and health woes. "And the whole mood of the country could be totally different a year from now."

The poll was also bad news for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who started out the year as the de facto GOP front-runner but whose campaign has since been battered by his strong support for the Iraq war. The free-falling McCain now trails Giuliani by more than 20 percentage points, 40 percent to 18 percent, the poll found.

Giuliani was speaking from the same state, South Carolina, that proved to be McCain's burying ground in 2000, when the Arizona senator got rolled by conservatives in this first-in-the-South primary battleground and never fully recovered.

Many pundits remain convinced that the pro-choice, pro-gun control and pro-gay-rights Giuliani is far too liberal to win a Republican primary here, where crosses announcing that "Jesus Saves" share roadside space with legal fireworks stores and shops selling cigarettes for $1.30 a pack.

But the former mayor wasn't taking any chances Wednesday - he held his first Town Hall meeting at a firehouse in North Spartanburg, in front of an invitation-only crowd of mostly cops and firefighters.

The audience devoured his tales of leading the city through Sept. 11 but asked not a single question about abortion or other social issues, which many seemed happy to overlook.

"I am personally not pro-choice," said Lt. Todd Williams of the nearby Seneca Fire Department, a Republican who voted for Bush in 2000. "But with any candidate, you have to take some bads to get some goods."

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