As tracked here at Smart Politics over the past few months, John McCain continues to prove to be the strongest Republican candidate to defeat the Democrats in 2008. McCain consistently, and by wide margins, polls better than his chief GOP rivals in almost all key battleground states—those states that Republicans and Democrats will each need to win to claim the White House.
The latest scientific polling on this issue comes from SurveyUSA, which interviewed more than 500 registered voters December 13-15 in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington, and Oregon. Matchup polls were conducted of McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney against both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Of the 16 possible matchups in these battleground states, McCain performed the best among the four Republicans in 13 of them. In one matchup McCain and Romney performed the same (both trailed Obama by 12 points in Iowa), and Huckabee scored the best among the GOP candidates against both Clinton and Obama in his neighboring state of Missouri (outpolling McCain by 2 and 5 points respectively).
McCain tied or bested the Democrats in exactly half of these matchups: leading Obama by 9 points in Minnesota, by 9 points in Ohio, and by 11 points in New Mexico, and leading Clinton by 7 points in Wisconsin, by 3 points in New Mexico, by 1 point in Iowa, and tying Clinton in both Ohio and Oregon.
Giuliani beat or tied the Democrats in just 3 of these 16 matchups (against Obama in Minnesota, Ohio, and New Mexico), with only 2 victories for Huckabee (against Obama in Missouri and New Mexico) and just 1 for Romney (against Obama in New Mexico). Neither of McCain's opponents polled higher than Clinton in any of these battleground states.
McCain has been poised to perform the best among the GOP candidates throughout most of the year, despite a campaign that had struggled to gain momentum until the last month or so. McCain has had a great December—picking up the endorsements of leading newspapers in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Massachusetts, as well as that of Independent-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman.
Recent polling shows this good news for McCain may be translating into support on the ground—McCain trails Romney by just 4 points in New Hampshire (31 to 27 percent) in the latest Rasmussen poll and received the nod of 14 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll of likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa (good for third place, in a state in which McCain has not devoted much resources).
The one caveat to this SurveyUSA data is that it was conducted of registered, and not likely voters. McCain may still be getting a slight bump among some part of the electorate due to his name recongition from having run for president in 2000.