Thursday, September 13th 2007, 4:00 AM
Rudy Giuliani is in trouble. Big trouble.
Yes, Giuliani - the national front-runner for months now - holds close to a five-point lead over former Sen. Fred Thompson in the latest Real Clear Politics averages. But there are big warning signs that make a Giuliani nomination a dubious proposition at best.
Look - I'm no disinterested observer. I am an active Democrat and was a polling strategist for President Bill Clinton. But a big part of me would like to see the former mayor win the nomination; I'm a New Yorker, and of all the Republicans, he is most to my liking philosophically. Yet it saddens me to say that, looking honestly at political reality, Giuliani has a very rough road ahead.
National numbers mean very little in a nominating contest that is going to be decided state by state. And when we look at the poll data that have been collected for the first four contests, the results are decidedly bleak for Giuliani.
Beginning with the Iowa caucuses, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a decisive 16-point lead in the Real Clear Politics averages. Giuliani is running a poor second, with no signs of movement or growth over the last month. As we know from the case of John Kerry in 2004, Iowa's winner brings big momentum into future primaries.
Moving to New Hampshire, the first primary, the Giuliani candidacy has stalled. You would expect the famously independent state to be a Giuliani stronghold, but his numbers there are flat. Romney, the former governor of a neighboring state, now leads by an average of nine points.
So Hizzoner faces the very real prospect of losing both Iowa and New Hampshire before heading to what could be a decisive set of primaries and caucuses in Nevada and South Carolina. Here again, Giuliani is in trouble. In Nevada, Romney registered a 10-point lead over Giuliani in the last statewide poll. This is likely the result of Giuliani's relatively soft stances on immigration and guns. Nevada caucus-goers care deeply about both.
For a while, South Carolina looked more encouraging, with Giuliani getting surprising support from the state's heavy contingent of military veterans. But he's now in a statistical tie with Thompson. I'd put my money on the former southern senator.
No biggie, Giuliani's people argue - they are sitting in the catbird's seat when Feb. 5 rolls around. That's the day a half dozen big states go to the polls. But while Giuliani holds leads now in major, moderate states such as New York, Florida, California, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois, politics is like pool: The first shot changes the next one. If Giuliani loses to Romney in the first three states and to Thompson in South Carolina, a strong Super Tuesday showing is a fantasy.
Giuliani faces even bigger woes than the primary calendar. He has recently gotten into a debate with Romney over immigration and is on record saying illegal immigration is "not a crime." Being the real law-and-order candidate only goes so far if you seem to excuse a whole swath of criminality.
Notice I haven't yet touched on Giuliani's most-often-cited vulnerabilities: His support for a woman's right to choose and gay rights still makes him a very heavy lift in the family-values party.
Mark my words: Giuliani will not be the GOP's nominee. Instead, he will join a long list including Howard Dean, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and others who owned national polls early - only to fizzle once the real votes were counted.
Schoen was President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection. He is author of the book "The Power of the Vote."