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Kristol: Is Rudy the most electable Republican?

5:09 PM, Oct 7, 2007 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Last week Rudy Giuliani said this: "Every poll shows that I would be, by far, the strongest candidate against Hillary Clinton. There hasn't been one taken in the last six or seven months that shows anything other than I'm the Republican that has the best chance to beat her."

If you take out the "by far," Rudy is basically right. In the most recent polls matching up the leading GOP candidates against Clinton, Rudy loses in the Rasmussen survey by 48 to 43, while Fred Thompson (for example) trails by 49 to 41. In the Fox News survey, Rudy is behind 46 to 39, while Thompson faces a larger deficit, 48 to 35. So Rudy does better.

On the other hand:

1. The difference in Rudy's relative performance and Thompson's really isn't that great. And it's not as if Rudy is defeating Hillary while everyone else is losing. They're all losing, in accord with the current generic gap between the parties. Indeed, six months ago Rudy was running 4 points ahead of Clinton (in the Real Clear Politics average), whereas he's now 6 points behind. So the notion that Rudy would significantly outperform other Republicans in the general election, or that Rudy alone can magically save the GOP from defeat, or that longer exposure to him helps with swing voters - all of this is far from clear.

2. There's a greater likelihood of a third-party effort against Rudy than against any of the other likely GOP nominees. That third party won't get the 14 percent of the vote that a hypothetical pro-life third party received in a Rasmussen survey - and Rudy therefore wouldn't lose to Hillary 46 to 30, as the survey suggested. But the third party question does suggest how rickety the electability argument is. Let's say a pro-life third party got the 2.74 percent of the vote Ralph Nader got in 2000, and let's assume that with another Republican nominee there wouldn't be such a third-party effort. If the GOP nominee holds almost all those voters, then Giuliani's electability advantage basically disappears.

None of this is to say Rudy might not turn out to be the strongest candidate against Hillary. It is to say that this is less clear than Rudy claims - and that electability therefore is unlikely to work as a decisive argument for Rudy with Republican primary voters as January approaches.

FOOTNOTE: USC, ranked second in the county, with a 35-game home winning streak, was a 41-point favorite over Stanford Saturday night. Stanford won, 24 to 23. Obama can beat Hillary.