Washington Fred Thompson's expected entry into the tight Republican presidential race is drawing crucial strength from conservatives and older men, vaulting him into the thick of the nomination fight, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll says.
The survey shows the top Democratic contender, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has twice the support from women as her nearest rival, Barack Obama, but dwindling strength among men. Her margin over the Illinois senator has eroded slightly since the last AP-Ipsos poll, in March.
Thompson, who has sandwiched an acting career around a largely anonymous eight years as Tennessee senator, has not formally entered the race. But he already has impressed many people. One in four of his supporters cites his strong character, more than any other GOP candidate.
"He can be kind of Reaganesque in his engaging with people," said Ronald Coppinger, 47, a carpenter from Indianapolis, describing a plainspoken style like the late President Reagan's. "I think that's important."
That has helped place Thompson firmly in the top tier among GOP contenders in the AP-Ipsos poll released Saturday. It shows former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 27 percent; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at 19 percent; Thompson essentially even with McCain at 17 percent; and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 10 percent.
"It shows America wants somebody with Fred's style, Fred's leadership," said former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a Thompson adviser.
On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Clinton is drawing support from four in 10 women - a group that accounted for 54 percent of the vote in 2004's key Democratic primaries. One in three of her supporters cites her experience - the highest rate among Democrats.
"I think women relate more to the needs of people," said cashier Jadine Robinson, 52, of Magnolia, Miss.
Clinton had 33 percent in the poll; Obama 21 percent; former Vice President Al Gore, who so far is not a candidate, 20 percent; and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., 12 percent.
Democratic analysts had no ready explanation why Clinton has lost support from men, especially younger men. Much of this support seems to have moved to Gore. Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, said that could change and noted that younger men do not vote with the frequency that women do.