Giuliani's GOP Lead–Sign of a New Era?

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Could someone please explain how it is that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is beating Arizona Sen. John McCain among likely South Carolina Republican primary voters? Is there a revolutionary turn back to the middle among this most conservative of conservative states' primary voters?

Lesson 1 in presidential politics is that candidates must appeal to the extremes of their party during the primary season.

Once their nominations are secure, the two finalists miraculously remake themselves as moderates so they can woo voters from each party (and independents) heading into the general election.

But Giuliani, Central Casting's version of a liberal Republican, is beating his more conservative rivals. Among the latest polls, this one released yesterday by Fox News reveals Giuliani winning 26 percent of "likely South Carolina Republican primary voters" to McCain's 25 percent, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney third at 14 percent.

Two caveats are in order. We're still almost a year away from the first primaries. Polls are meaningless at this juncture, I know. But still, no Republican strategist since Pat Buchanan's infamous "cross-dresser" speech at the 1992 GOP convention, or possibly before, would have wagered that a liberal Republican would be ahead of a conservative in early polling.

Second, Giuliani's only ahead by a point in South Carolina. And other polls have shown his numbers dropping against McCain's in the past couple of weeks. But the fact that this philandering, city slicker, pro-choice, pro-gay-rights former mayor of (a) sin city is still ahead even by the narrowest of margins in Bible country is nothing short of amazing.

One of two things is going on. Either conservative Republican voters are so "over" Bush conservatism that they're willing to try something–anything–new, or they haven't tuned into Giuliani's positions and personal history.