Fred Thompson

WASHINGTON – Will it be Hillary vs. Rudy?

Mitt vs. Barack?

Or will the 2008 presidential race involve two currently undeclared candidates?

A new poll placing Fred Thompson in the lead nationwide among Republicans and increasing speculation that former presidential candidate Al Gore might enter the race give a whole new look to the campaign.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds former Tennessee Sen. Thompson earning support from 28 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani attracts support from 27 percent.

While Thompson’s one-point edge may be statistically insignificant, it is the first time anyone but Giuliani has been on top in Rasmussen Reports polling, or, for that matter, any other national public opinion survey.

Thompson has not officially declared his candidacy but is expected to make an announcement July 4.

“It remains an open question as to how Thompson will hold up once he actually enters the campaign and has to compete directly with other candidates,” says Scott Rasmussen. “To date, he retains the allure of the new kid in town while GOP voters already know the things they don’t like about the others. Still, Thompson’s rise to the top provides a telling measure of how the other GOP hopefuls have failed to capture the imagination of the party they hope to lead.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are tied in the latest poll for a distant third. This week, both candidates attract 10 percent support.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback are each the top choice for 2 percent of likely voters. The combined total for five other candidates in the race is just under 3 percent. Those candidates are Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, former Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, and former Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia. Some 18 percent say they’re not sure how they will vote.

Meanwhile, there is increasing talk of Gore’s entry into the race. With Clinton’s negatives reaching 50 percent among the electorate in some major polls and no other declared candidate on the Democratic side presenting a serious challenge, oddsmakers are seeing Gore as a favorite.

Online sportsbooks are offering 6-1 odds that Gore will win the presidency.

Gore’s new book, “Assault on Reason,” is also seen as laying the foundation for entry into the race.

The latest word from Gore? He says his environmental duties “feels like a worthwhile mission. I have not ruled (a presidential run) out entirely because I’m only 59, and 59 is the new 58 you know.”

Previous stories:

Fred Thompson takes on Mike Farrell

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.