It's still 14 months before the Iowa caucuses, but already two heavyweight contenders have emerged in the 2008 Republican presidential battle: Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Recent polls by USA Today/Gallup and CNN put the pair far ahead of the Republican pack, with Giuliani holding a two-point lead over McCain. Polls also show the two men in a dead heat with the apparent Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
Of course, there's a long, long way to go until the primaries and serious obstacles remain in both men's paths, chiefly their ability to appeal to the conservative wing of the GOP.
Also, there are plenty of other GOP wannabes out there, but none can match McCain and Giuliani when it comes to national name recognition, fundraising ability or star quality. And until one of those contenders emerges from the pack, it looks like a mano a mano between the "maverick" senator from Arizona and the New Yorker dubbed "America's mayor."
Here, then, a primer on the two early Republican frontrunners we'll no doubt be learning a lot more about in the months ahead:
John S. McCain III Born: Aug. 29, 1936 in Panama Canal Zone, Panama
Rudolph W. "Rudy" Giuliani Born: May 28, 1944, Brooklyn, N.Y.
McCain: Graduated U.S. Naval Academy, 1958.
Giuliani: Attended Manhattan College, graduated New York University Law School 1968.
McCain: Married to Cindy Lou Hensley. Has seven children and four grandchildren. First marriage to Carol Shepp ended in divorce.
Giuliani: Married to Judith Nathan. Has two children from a marriage to TV personality Donna Hanover, which ended in divorce, and one stepdaughter. First marriage was annulled.
McCain: U.S. senator, 1986-present; U.S. congressman, 1982-1986.
Giuliani: Mayor of New York City, 1994-2001; U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, 1983-1989.
Past campaign stumbles:
McCain: Unsuccessful candidate for Republican presidential nomination in 2000, losing to George W. Bush after scoring early victory in New Hampshire primary.
Giuliani: Withdrew as candidate for U.S. Senate in 1998, against Democrat Hillary Clinton, after announcing he had prostate cancer and amid highly public divorce. Lost first mayoral bid in New York to incumbent David Dinkins in 1989 before defeating him four years later.
McCain: Conservative on social issues such as abortion and gun control; led bipartisan initiatives on campaign finance reform, immigration reform and lobbying reform; longtime crusader for ending pork-barrel spending; strong supporter of Iraq war who has called for sending more U.S. troops to help crush the insurgency.
Giuliani: Supports gun control, same-sex unions, abortion rights and comprehensive immigration reform; strong on crime and defense issues; supporter of President Bush on Iraq war.
McCain: A "maverick" senator who's been willing to buck the party establishment; a war hero who spent five years as a POW during the Vietnam War; strong military and national security credentials; experience in the highest halls of power; national name recognition; proven fund-raising ability; spent past election season campaigning hard for GOP candidates around the country; a conservative with appeal to independents.
Giuliani: Led New York City revival in the 1990s, when crime was dramatically reduced; won international acclaim for handling of 2001 terrorist attack on World Trade Center, when he became widely known as "America's mayor"; untarnished by ties to defeated Republican Congress; has no voting record in Congress to defend; can run as a true Washington outsider; has potential appeal to independents and Democrats; spent past election season campaigning hard for GOP candidates around the country; national name recognition; gives GOP rare chance to win New York's 31 electoral votes.
McCain: His age — he'll be 72 when the next president is sworn in; he alienated many evangelicals during the 2000 campaign, when he referred to Jerry Falwell and others as "agents of intolerance," though he has since backed off those remarks; was named in the late '80s in the Keating Five savings and loan scandal; reputed to have a short temper; though seen as a maverick, he's long been a part of the unpopular Congress; a longtime Washington insider.
Giuliani: Limited federal government experience; limited foreign policy experience; may be considered too liberal by GOP's conservative base; his health — prostate cancer forced him to pull out of 1998 Senate race, though he's made a full recovery; sometimes seen in mayoral years as short-tempered and egotistical; marital problems in past; he's a New Yorker.
The Bush Factor:
McCain: Ran against George W. Bush in 2000, then strongly supported him four years later; has frequently been a thorn in the president's side in the Senate, opposing Mr. Bush's 2001 tax cuts and successfully fighting for Geneva Convention rules in the detention of terrorist suspects this year.
Giuliani: Has been seen as a strong ally of the president.
McCain: "Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life," 2004; "Worth Fighting For, A Memoir," 2002; "Faith of My Fathers," 1999.
Giuliani: "Leadership," 2002.
McCain: Cameo in "Wedding Crashers," 2005.
Giuliani: Cameo in "Anger Management," 2003.
McCain: Hosted "Saturday Night Live," 2002.
Giuliani: Hosted "Saturday Night Live," 1997.
Played Them In The TV Movie:
McCain: Actor Shawn Hatosy cast as young Navy pilot John McCain in 2005 film version of "Faith of My Fathers."
Giuliani: James Woods played the New York mayor in 2003 biopic, "Rudy: the Rudy Giuliani Story."