Despite trailing Rudy Giuliani in most national polls by double digits, Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain has opened up his first lead over the former New York City mayor in the Hawkeye State, 26 to 19 percent (American Research Group, April 27-30). Two months ago, the ARG poll had Giuliani leading 31-23, with McCain closing the gap at 29-29 in mid-March.

McCain’s recent surge in Iowa parallels the strong early support he is receiving in two other influential primary states: New Hampshire and South Carolina. Late-April ARG polling shows McCain leading Giuliani by 12 points in New Hampshire (Giuliani also trails Mitt Romney by 7 points) and by 13 points in South Carolina.

These polls give a much needed boost to McCain supporters, who find their candidate trailing Giuliani nationally by 11 points in an NBC / WSJ poll (April 20-23), 11 points in a Pew poll (April 18-22), and 19 points in a Fox News poll (April 17-18).

The hope, for McCain, is that a clean sweep of the high-profile Iowa Caucus (January 14, 2008) and early primaries in New Hampshire (January 22, 2008) and South Carolina (February 2, 2008) will propel him into a much stronger finish on “Mega-Tuesday” (February 5, 2008), when at least 15 states will hold elections for over 800 Republican delegates, including Giuliani-friendly (and delegate rich) states like New York, New Jersey, and California.

In Iowa, Mitt Romney earned 14 percent of the support in the ARG poll of likely Republican caucus voters—his highest level of support to date. Not-yet-official candidate Fred Thompson was the only other Republican in double digits, with 13 percent.