Sen. Hillary Clinton holds a double-digit lead over her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in many national polls. But in Iowa, home to the January 2008 caucus that is the first major event of the electoral season, the Democratic race is much tighter, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. Among all Iowa Democrats surveyed, Clinton enjoys a 6-point lead over her nearest rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. But among likely Democratic caucus-goers, she is locked in a three-way race with Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, with Obama enjoying a slight edge.
Meanwhile, the NEWSWEEK Poll found that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has emerged as the top choice among Iowa's GOP voters—well ahead of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads in most national polls. But Romney's religious beliefs could pose a problem; less than half of all Republicans in the state (45 percent) think the country is ready to elect a Mormon president (35 percent do not).
With less than four months to go before the caucuses, both races still appear quite fluid. While Romney is the first choice of 24 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers, none of the Republican candidates comes close to commanding the support of a majority of GOP voters surveyed. And Clinton appears to be the only Democrat with strong support from her party's registered voters.
Among all Iowa Democratic voters, Clinton draws 31 percent, followed by Obama (25 percent) and Edwards (21 percent). But among likely caucus-goers, Obama enjoys a slim lead, polling 28 percent to best Clinton (24 percent) and Edwards (22 percent). Bill Richardson is the only other Democratic candidate to score in the double digits (10 percent).
Still, the poll suggests that Clinton's supporters may be the strongest of the pack. A majority of her boosters (55 percent) say their support is "strong," edging Obama (41 percent) and Edwards (37 percent). Neither Clinton's gender nor Obama's race seem to be a sticking point for Iowa Democrats; 94 percent of voters say they would be willing to vote for either a female candidate or a black candidate. But only two thirds think the country is ready to elect a woman (63 percent) or African-American (66 percent) president.
Clinton's record on Iraq may be affecting her support in Iowa. Likely Democratic caucus-goers are split: 22 percent say her record on the war makes them more likely to vote for her; 21 percent say it makes them less inclined. But it's clear that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is an unalloyed asset. Eight in 10 (79 percent) Democratic likely caucus-goers say it would be good for the country to have him back in the White House as First Gentleman (12 percent do not).
On the other side of the aisle, Romney, who has reportedly spent $2.7 million on television time in the state, has emerged as the Republican front runner both statewide and among likely caucus-goers. He enjoys the support of a quarter (24 percent) of the GOP's likely caucus-goers, followed by Fred Thompson (16 percent), Giuliani (13 percent) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (12 percent). Arizona Sen. John McCain polled just 9 percent.
Still, Romney's support is hardly ironclad. Twenty-six percent of Iowa Republicans who support him do so "strongly." Giuliani's backing is even softer (22 percent of his backers support him "strongly"). Four in 10 (39 percent) of Thompson's boosters say their support is strong.
Romney's reputation is positive among Hawkeye State Republicans; 55 percent of all GOP voters have a "mostly favorable" view of him (13 percent have a "very favorable" view). Fifty-nine percent of the narrower group of likely GOP caucus-goers have a "mostly favorable" view of Romney, while 19 percent have a "very favorable" view of him. But less than half of them (45 percent) think the country is ready to elect a Mormon president. Although 57 percent of Iowa Republican voters surveyed say they are "somewhat familiar" with the Mormon religion (16 percent say they are "very familiar"), 54 percent consider Mormons to be Christians. (Evangelical Christians make up 42 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers in the state, according to the poll, and 45 percent of Republican voters overall.)
Three quarters of likely GOP caucus-goers (77 percent) view Romney as a politician who can get things done and more than half (55 percent) suspect he can affect needed change. Allegations that he is a "flip-flopper" have stuck with a quarter (24 percent) of likely caucus-goers; 58 percent do not think he flip-flops too often.
Abortion remains another issue of significant importance to Iowa voters, according to the poll. A majority of Republicans (61 percent) and about half of all Democratic voters (47 percent) say abortion will be one of several issues they will consider when casting their vote. But a small minority of both Republican voters (6 percent) and Democratic voters (4 percent) consider it the single most important issue. Giuliani, who has come under fire from conservatives for being insufficiently pro-life, appears to be the candidate whose support is most affected by his stance on abortion. The former mayor gets 26 percent support among Iowa Republican voters who say it's not an important issue, compared with just 11 percent from those who say it is.
The NEWSWEEK Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on Sept. 26-27. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,215 Iowa registered voters; the overall margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The margin of error for questions asked only of Democratic voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points and "likely" Democratic voters is plus or minus 7; for Republican voters it is 6 percentage points and plus or minus 9 points for "likely" GOP voters. For respondents who said the issue of abortion is important, the margin of error is plus or minus 4 points; for respondents who said it was "not important" it's 5 points.