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The battle for Iowa

"Obama widens lead over Clinton" is the headline in the Des Moines Register regarding its latest poll. The numbers: Obama 32%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 24%, Richardson 6%, Biden 4%. "Roughly a third of likely caucusgoers say they could be persuaded to choose someone else before Thursday evening," the Register writes.

More: "The poll also reveals a widening gap between the three-way contest for the lead and the remaining candidates. No other Democrat received support from more than 6 percent of likely caucusgoers. The findings mark the largest lead of any of the Democratic candidates in the Register's poll all year, underscoring what has been a hard-fought battle among the three well-organized Iowa frontrunners."

On the Republican side, Huckabee maintains a 32%-26% lead over Romney. McCain is third with 13%, and Thompson and Paul follow at 9%; Giuliani sits at 5%. The poll "shows a resurgent Arizona Sen. John McCain grabbing third place in the Republican race for the first-in-the-nation caucuses," the Register writes. 

The Des Moines Register's Yepsen notes, "A lot of caucus-goers are first-timers. A whopping 60 percent of the Democrats say this would be their first time at a caucus. Some 40 percent of the Republicans say that." Also, "Some 40 percent of the Democratic caucus-goers say they are independents, and another 5 percent say they are Republicans. …Put another way, 54 percent of the Democratic caucus-goers say they're Democrats. In 2004, it was 80 percent. That will raise some eyebrows among party pros."

The Clinton campaign also points out that the poll "shows that among Democrats, Clinton leads 33 to 27 for Obama and 25 for Edwards. As Register columnist David Yepsen points out, had their pollsters used the 2004 turnout model, Hillary would lead by 29 to 27, figures in line with the other polls."

But the Des Moines isn't the only media organization out with a new Iowa poll today. A CNN/Opinion Research survey had it Clinton 33%, Obama 31%, and Edwards 22%. The good news for the Clinton folks is that this poll shows them up; the bad news for the Edwards folks is that it confirms the Register's findings that the former North Carolina senator is in third.

On the GOP side, it's Romney 31%, Huckabee 28%, Thompson 13%, and McCain 10%.

The New York Times' Nagourney asks a question we had been thinking: What happens if there is not a winner on Caucus Night? "[A]mid all the endless permutations of outcomes that are being discussed - can Mrs. Clinton, the putative front-runner, survive a third-place finish, or Mr. Edwards a second-place one? - aides are beginning to grapple with the frustrating possibility that all the time, money and political skill invested here might prove to be for naught when it comes to identifying the candidate to beat in the primaries and winnowing the top tier… Rather than clarify the state of play and consolidate this crowded field a bit, an outcome like that would almost certainly muddle things further and potentially extend the time before Democrats know their nominee."

It's not said in this piece, but the candidate who probably can't survive an indecisive result: Edwards.

Covering the final day of campaigning in 2007, the New York Times says that Clinton attacked her rivals' arguments, though she did not use their names. She said that Mr. Edwards's angry-sounding salvos against 'special interests' were 'great applause lines and speeches, and people get really excited, because we all know that the power has shifted way too much to the wealthy and well connected.' 'I've taken on the drug companies,' Mrs. Clinton added. 'I've taken on the health insurance companies; I've taken on the oil companies, and I intend to keep doing it.'"