WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton is the clear favorite in early polls for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. So, what does that mean? Not a lot, if history is any guide.
Republican hopeful Rudy Giuliani, however, is sitting pretty.
For at least three decades, Republicans have been far better than Democrats in early polls at getting behind the candidates who end up winning the party's presidential nomination.
Note that Edmund Muskie in 1972, George Wallace in 1976, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992 and Joe Lieberman in 2004 were early front-runners among Democrats. None won the nomination.
Republicans have picked the early front-runner in seven of the past 10 elections, according to Gallup polling. In the other three elections, Republican incumbents cruised to re-election.
Democrats nominated a former vice president, Walter Modale, in 1984, and a sitting vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. For those elections, the early polls were more predictable at picking the front-runner.
Why has the GOP been better at predicting winners?
"There is this sense among Republicans - a belief that it's a certain person's time to run for president," said Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. But the GOP track record is probably due more to chance and the Republicans' success at winning the White House since 1968, he said.
In 2008, neither party has a former vice president or president competing for the nomination for the first time in almost 80 years.
Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, is a favorite in early polls. But many people feel his personal history and moderate positions on social issues may cost him support among some conservatives.
Arizona Sen. John McCain is running even or second to Giuliani, with former Massachusetts Gob. Mitt Romney running a distant third.
Among Democrats, New York Sen. Clinton is looking strong at this point, with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards coming in as her stiffest competition.