McCain rises while Rudy drops

John McCain, whose presidential candidacy nearly collapsed six months ago, has soared to the front of the crowded Republican field while last year’s national GOP front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, saw his standing plummet over the past month, a new poll shows.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton still has a lead but rival Barack Obama has started to close the gap.

In both races, the dynamic could shift overnight. The South Carolina GOP primary as well as Nevada’s Democratic and Republican caucuses set for Saturday could upend the fights for the two party nominations.

Still, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll illuminates what has changed since the candidates competed in the high-profile Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. On the Republican side, Wyoming and Michigan also have voted.

The GOP race has only grown more chaotic in the two weeks since voting began. Three different candidates have won four nominating contests; no candidate has been able to unite the social, economic and security wings of the Republican Party.

McCain, the Arizona senator who won New Hampshire, got 22 percent in the poll, up from 13 percent last month, while the two former governors who also posted big wins tied at 16 percent. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas won Iowa, while Romney of Massachusetts prevailed in Michigan and in scarcely contested Wyoming. Their national standing is essentially unchanged since December.

Giuliani, long the leader in AP-Ipsos polls, has yet to win a GOP contest; he’s placed no better than fourth in any state and is struggling to remain relevant in the run up to his must-win state, Florida on Jan. 29. The former New York mayor dropped to 14 percent since December when he led the survey with 26 percent.

McCain’s once high-flying campaign almost imploded in July amid financial, organizational and political turmoil that left many observers doubting he could recover. But over the past month, McCain has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts and his standing in polls improved as New Hampshire voters gave him a second look.

In the poll, he won over several key voting groups among which Giuliani used to hold the advantage. The senator posted gains among moderates and conservatives alike, as well as men, married Republicans and suburbanites. He did not see an uptick among evangelicals; Huckabee continues to hold a strong lead among them. No one Republican candidate has an edge among women; Giuliani used to have a hold on that group.

In the Democratic race, Clinton has the top spot with 40 percent, slipping slightly from last month, while Obama jumped 10 percentage points from December to 33 percent following his victory over the New York senator in the Iowa caucuses. Days later, Clinton beat Obama, an Illinois senator, in New Hampshire.

The two are in a close race in Nevada, and the outcome will set the stage for a high-stakes South Carolina Democratic primary on Jan. 26.

Since December, Clinton’s support has eroded among several key constituencies, while Obama gained.

That means the two are competitive among several voting blocs in which Clinton once held an advantage, including minorities, young people, Midwesterners. She maintained a slight edge among women, low-income and lesser-educated Democrats, while losing some support among Democratic-leaning independents and self-described moderates.

John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who hasn’t won a primary, saw his support essentially unchanged at 13 percent.

Conducted Tuesday through Thursday, AP-Ipsos poll of 1,010 adults has a margin of error plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. It included interviews of 471 Democrats and those who lean toward the Democrats, whose margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, and 359 Republicans and those who lean toward the Republicans, whose margin of error was plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.