Friday, December 28, 2007

"Edwards reaches new heights in Iowa"

DES MOINES – John Edwards appears to have risen to a new highpoint in Iowa, marking an upward trend over the past two weeks that places him in a statistical tie with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A new Strategic Vision poll released Friday finds that Edwards has the support of 28 percent of likely Democratic cacucusgoers, his best standing in Iowa over the past six months. Edwards now trails Clinton by only one point and Obama by two points, well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Today’s survey confirms a string of polls in the past two weeks - another by Strategic Vision as well as recent polls by CNN and InsiderAdvantage. All demonstrate a steady ascension by Edwards, while Clinton and Obama appear to have stabilized.

The Democratic race in Iowa, more than any time this year, is now absent a clear frontrunner. With less than a week until the Iowa caucuses, the triumvirate of Democratic leaders appears equally positioned to win the first contest of the 2008 presidential primary race.

But Edwards also comes into the Jan. 3 caucuses with particular advantages, some of which have been overlooked by the national media focus on an irresistible and historic Obama/Clinton duel. Edwards’ campaign boasts the most deeply rooted rural operation, allowing it to possibly win small precincts across the state that could prove crucial in the final tally.

Polling by The Washington Post has also found that Edwards has the most support among those voters who participated in the 2004 Democratic caucuses, no small advantage for an election that measures a high turnout at 120,000 participants statewide.

“We have a really good ground game,” Edwards’ Iowa co-chairman Rob Tully said. “We have people that are seasoned from last time and we know what to do. If the weather is bad, our people are the most dedicated and we will win.”

For now, however, next Thursday’s forecast is clear, a climate befitting high turnout.

Irrespective of the weather, Edwards may also benefit from the second stage of the caucuses. After the first round, supporters of those candidates who did not meet a 15 percent threshold move to other viable candidates. While polls conflict, Edwards campaign believes it is best positioned in this second round.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News poll published Friday, but largely conducted prior to Christmas, finds that Edwards leads Clinton and Obama as the second choice of Iowa Democrats. But in this poll, Clinton maintains a slightly stronger lead, with 29 percent of Democratic voters, compared with 26 percent for Obama and 25 percent for Edwards. Yet Clinton’s lead in this survey, like other polls of late, falls within the margin of error as well.

Unlike Mike Huckabee in the Republican field, Edwards’ rise in Iowa has been gradual and not wholly unexpected. He has been on the heels of Obama and Clinton for months. Yet as those within the Edwards campaign know, much can shift in the coming days.

One week prior to the 2004 caucuses, several polls pegged Edwards in fourth place. By caucus day, however, a Des Moines Register poll showed Edwards in second, where he finished.

This year, Edwards rise appears to have begun sooner. In regular polls, Strategic Vision had not placed Edwards at this level of support since May. Between mid-December and September, no poll found that Edwards had more than 25 percent of likely Democratic voters’ backing. He has consistently polled closer to 23 percent since summer’s end.

This is also the first Iowa poll conducted after Christmas and there may be a solidification of views following family holiday gatherings.

When Democrats were asked in the poll what mattered to them in deciding their vote, 32 percent said ideology, 30 percent said charisma, and 21 percent selected experience.

Clinton has campaigned on her experience and if the election turns on ideology and charisma, it would seem to favor Obama and Edwards.

Edwards own internal polling has also found that Obama has steadied, Clinton’s support has declined, and Edwards is now gradually gaining support statewide, Tully said.

For his part, Edwards has consistently tried to present himself this year as the most electable Democratic candidate in the race, touting his working class southern roots. A recent CNN poll found that Edwards was the only Democrat to beat all four leading Republicans.

But Edwards rise may be equally due to a full year of forthright populism. He has pounded issues of economic insecurity, from rising health care costs to curtailing free trade to challenging “abusive lenders.”

While the war in Iraq remains the top issue for one in three likely Democratic caucusgoers, according to the Dec. 18 CNN poll, health care and the economy combine to be the top issue for more than half of those surveyed.

Yet should Edwards win Iowa, Obama and Clinton remain far better positioned in the contests to follow.

If Clinton does not win Iowa, advisors to her campaign say they would prefer Edwards won the state over Obama. Obama is currently locked in a dead heat in New Hampshire with Clinton, while Edwards trails in the Granite state by a double digit margin.

On Thursday, Edwards chief strategist Joe Trippi sent an email out to supporters asking them to contribute $50 by Dec. 31 in an effort to raise $1.5 million to improve their "on the ground" operations in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

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