Democratic Race Tightens in Iowa

The latest CBS News-New York Times poll shows a tight 3-way race in Iowa among Democrats and a surprising surge by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in the GOP contest.

In Iowa, the Democratic contest is knotted up. Among likely caucus-goers, Clinton came out on top with 25 percent support, but she was trailed closely by Edwards at 23 percent, and Obama at 22 percent. With a margin of error of 4 percentage points, there is no clear leader. Trailing behind was Bill Richardson, at 12 percent, with all other candidates in single digits.

None of the top three has firmed up their support yet - about half of those backing each candidate said they could change their minds before caucus night. Despite that fluidity, there are some clear patterns that show how important it will be for each candidate to turn out certain groups of voters: Women have a strong preference for Clinton, while those under the age of 45 give Obama a double-digit lead. Obama and Clinton are nearly tied for support among first-time caucus-goers, but previous attendees give Edwards a narrow edge over Clinton.
How much of this can be attributed to recent gaffes by the Clinton campaign is unknown. Iowa voters have long shown an independence from national trends, deciding who to support based on what they see in person rather than what they read about or see on TV. This is born out by looking at the numbers from New Hampshire where Hillary Clinton still holds a comfortable, double digit lead over Senator Obama:
As contentious as Iowa is, the next state on the campaign calendar, New Hampshire, is far less competitive. Among likely Democratic primary voters, Clinton has 37 percent support, putting her 15 points ahead of Obama. Among Republicans, Romney continues to dominate. He was backed by 34 percent in the poll, while John McCain and Giuliani both trailed at 16 percent.

All other candidates were in single digits. Clinton's support in the Granite State is solid. Though 52 percent of voters say they could change their mind, 62 percent of Clinton supporters "strongly favor" the New York senator and former first lady. As in Iowa, her experience is the top reason people are supporting her.
Hillary's support in New Hampshire seems solid enough. But what happens if she loses in Iowa? All might depend on when New Hampshirites decide to hold their primary. There has been some talk that the Granite State should hold their vote prior to Iowa given the number of primaries following those caucuses in quick succession. If so, we could see New Hampshire holding their primary for the 2008 election in 2007 - sometime in mid-December. It's still a mess less than 2 months before the actual voting begins. But the tight race in Iowa suggests that there is still time for either Obama or Edwards to make a race of it. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney's Iowa lead has been cut considerably by a surging Mike Huckabee:
While the Democratic contest in Iowa has been a three-way battle for some time, most polls have shown Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, with a strong lead in the Hawkeye State, dominating the GOP field. Recent surveys, however, have shown Huckabee picking up steam, and he is well within striking distance in the CBS News/New York Times poll, where he trails Romney, 27 percent to 21 percent, with a 5 percent margin of error. Rudy Giuliani was in third at 15 percent.

All other candidates were in single digits, including Fred Thompson, who had 9 percent support among likely caucus-goers.
One important note in the GOP race; nearly 2/3 of the support for all the candidates is "soft" - people are still open to changing their mind. This does not bode well for either Romney or Giuliani whose front runner status in the early states thus becomes more precarious than seen at first blush.