Poll: Top Democrats Deadlocked In Iowa

generic hillary clinton john edwards barack obama iowa election flag white house campaign CBS/AP

Democrats and Republicans are both headed toward heated showdowns in Iowa, where, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, Hillary Clinton holds a statistically insignificant lead over John Edwards and Barack Obama, and GOP hopeful Mitt Romney finds his long-held position as the state's front-runner challenged by a surging Mike Huckabee.

The situation in Iowa, where nominating caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 3, is in stark contrast to New Hampshire, where Clinton and Romney continue to hold large leads among those likely to vote in the state's first-in-the-nation primary, which could come only days after Iowa's contests.

But in both states, large chunks of voters have yet to make up their minds, meaning the results of the contests that will kick off the 2008 nominating season are still difficult to predict.

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.

Read The Complete CBS News/NY Times Poll
The findings indicate that if older and established voters dominate turnout, the caucuses could be a two-way contest between Clinton and Edwards. If the Obama campaign succeeds in its bid to bring young voters and first-time caucus-goers out on Jan. 3, however, it could leave Iowa with a win and a crucial momentum boost headed into later contests. Doing so will be a challenge: Only a third of possible first-time attendees say they will "definitely" attend the caucuses, compared with six in 10 of previous attendees.

One factor in Obama's favor is that nearly two-thirds of the state's independent voters who plan on voting on Jan. 3 say they'll attend the Democratic caucus. Obama attracts the support of 37 percent of those voters, compared to only 17 percent for Edwards and 15 percent for Clinton.

The priorities of Iowans will also be crucial. Clinton is seen as the most electable in November 2008 by a wide margin. However, Obama is clearly seen as the most likely to bring about change in Washington and Edwards holds a strong edge on the question of who understands the problems of Iowans.
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