Obama widens gap over Clinton in Iowa, poll shows

Barack Obama stretched his lead over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Iowa to seven points, in a new poll late on Monday, two days before the state opens the White House nominating race.

The Des Moines Register poll of people likely to attend caucuses on Thursday put Obama on 32%, with the former first lady on 25%, a point ahead of former Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards.

The poll, by the only state-wide paper in Iowa, is highly respected, and among Republicans had former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee holding his lead on 32% over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on 26%.

Arizona Senator John McCain, who is expected to make his first major stand of the 2008 race in the New Hampshire primary on January 8, was third in the Republican field on 13%.

The Register, in its last poll before the caucuses, said Obama’s lead in the hotly contested primaries had been built on a huge influx of first-time caucus goers, and previously independent voters.

Obama’s tally was up four points on his spot in the last Register poll in late November, while Edwards and Clinton were virtually unchanged.

The poll has a wider lead for Obama than other recent surveys in the state, which had the race a tense three-way struggle, with Edwards showing signs of new momentum.

One third of those surveyed, as candidates made desperate last-ditch journeys across the snowbound state in search of votes, said they were open to changing their minds before Thursday.

The Clinton campaign, however, rejected the methodology of the survey, saying it was out of sync with other polls and used an unprecedented model giving more weight to independent voters in the caucuses.

Had 2004 models been used, the campaign said, Clinton would lead Obama by 29% to 27%, figures which were broadly in line with surveys by other organisations.

The Republican picture had Huckabee riding a wave of support among conservative Christians, and was virtually unchanged from a poll taken in late November.

Romney, who follows the Mormon faith, which is viewed skeptically among some Christian conservatives, has led in Iowa for months, but saw his lead ebb away to Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.

McCain, who was endorsed in the race by the Register’s editorial board, was up six points from the last poll.

Clinton was endorsed by the paper in the Democratic race.—AFP

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