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Behind the Horse Race Numbers: Edwards Strongest Democrat in General Election Match-ups

A Commentary by Douglas Schoen

The most recent Rasmussen Reports data show that all of the most likely Democratic nominees lead their strongest prospective opponents. At this point John Edwards appears to be strongest in individual match-ups leading Giuliani by 9%, Thompson by 10%, and Romney by 11%.

Hillary Clinton holds almost as big a lead, but falls just short of Edwards' margin. She leads Giuliani by 5%, Thompson by 8%, and Romney by 9%.

Barack Obama holds a more narrow 5% lead over Giuliani, a 6% lead over Thompson, and a 3% lead over Romney.

How do we explain these findings, in the wake of Edwards' third place showing in Democratic primary trial heats?

First, one naturally points to Edwards' southern roots. Since John F. Kennedy's victory in 1960, the only Democrats to win the Presidency were southern Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Second, Edwards -- despite his current left wing rhetorical appeal -- is actually perceived as more conservative than either Clinton or Obama.

Overall, 44% perceive Edwards as liberal in comparison to 51% who percieive Obama as liberal and 57% who see Clinton in this way.

By contrast, 13% characterize Edwards as conservative, compared to 8% who see Clinton and Obama in this way.

Finally, Edwards at this point demonstrates the greatest appeal to Independents beating Guiliani by 13%. Obama wins Independents by 5% and Clinton wins them by 3% against Guiliani.

All of this may well be academic as Clinton leads national trial heats for the Democratic nomination according to the Real Clear Politics average. She also holds double digit leads in New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina and every early or important primary state. Rasmussen noted earlier this week that a Clinton victory is not inevitable, but she is the clear frontrunner.

The only place Clinton doesn’t have a solid lead at the moment is Iowa. Rasmussen noted recently that Iowa has become a must-win state for Obama. Despite his success in general election polling, the same is true for Edwards.

Douglas Schoen is a founding and former partner of Penn Schoen & Berland, and a Fox News Contributor.

Schoen was President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign.

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