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First thoughts: Obama's momentum

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
DES MOINES, IA -- So what do we think of the new Des Moines Register poll, which shows Obama leading Clinton and Edwards, 32%-25%-24%? No matter how you slice it, it provides a definite momentum boost for the Obama folks; it's the equivalent of receiving the paper's endorsement (as Clinton actually did a couple of weeks ago). Perhaps most important of all, for those Iowans who like Obama but don't think he can win, the poll is a validator of sorts. That said, the Clinton and Edwards campaigns are taking issue with the survey, and we'd do the same thing if we were in their shoes. In the poll, a "whopping" 40% identified themselves as independents and another 5% said they were Republicans. Polling the Iowa caucuses has always been difficult, because it's hard gauge who, exactly, will turn out. The Register, however, has always been considered the "gold standard" of Iowa polls, and it got it right in 2004. But this time, the Register's pollster is definitely betting on the Obama turnout model. Do note that Yepsen seems a bit skeptical about the numbers.

*** The GOP numbers: Our recent MSNBC/McClatchy poll of Iowa had Huckabee down and Romney back in the lead. But the Des Moines Register has Huckabee ahead of Romney, 32%-26% -- followed by McCain at 13%, Paul and Thompson at 9%, and Giuliani at 5%. However, Huckabee probably can take little solace in the numbers simply because the poll was conducted before yesterday's disastrous press conference (more on that later). By the way, the poll also indicates that the possibility of Paul topping two major candidates -- Rudy and Thompson -- is very real. And if that happens, what does it mean? Can Giuliani spin out of finishing behind Paul? It's a symbol that some in the media may use to hit Giuliani for his late-state strategy.

*** What the Huck? Speaking of Huckabee, what was he thinking yesterday? That, at least, seems to be the consensus among the chattering class that attended yesterday's bizarre press conference, in which he announced that he wasn't going to run a negative TV ad against Romney, but showed it to the press anyway. The real damage yesterday's episode could do to Huckabee is damage his brand. Part of the reason for his rise was the fact he wasn't acting like a traditional politician. Yesterday's stunt seemed like a trick that a cynical politician performs. That said, as the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notes, Iowa TV is being far kinder to Huck's presser than the national media are.

*** The enthusiasm gap: Yesterday, we spent some time with the so-called second tier on the Dem side. The most striking thing: the crowd sizes. Biden and Richardson seem to get similar crowds as the GOP front-runners. It's a telling enthusiasm measuring stick that Biden can get Romney crowds. Also, the folks we talked to at Biden seem to be looking toward "experience" as their reason to support him. And consequently, it's hard to imagine that Biden folks would then decide to go with the least experienced front-runner, right?  As for Richardson, his supporters seem to be into change more than experience. These anecdotes, of course, could be meaningless but we pass along nonetheless…

*** On the trail: Biden gives speeches in Des Moines, Indianola, Knoxville, and Davenport; Clinton campaigns in Ames, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, and Iowa City; Dodd hits Clinton, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Marshallton; Edwards stumps in Ames, Fort Dodge, and Des Moines; Giuliani is down in New York City; Huckabee campaigns in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, where he holds a rally with Chuck Norris; Obama is in Des Moines; Council Bluffs; Sioux City, and Dubuque; Romney hits several house parties in (among other places) Ankeny, Johnston, Clive, and Ames. Elsewhere, McCain campaigns in New Hampshire. 

Countdown to Iowa: 2 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 7 days
Countdown to Michigan: 14 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 18 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 25 days
Countdown to Florida: 28 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 308 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 385 days

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