This far out from the primaries, most polling has little significance. It takes a national temperature for a process that plays out very carefully through selected states, and at a time when most people still have yet to see the candidates speak directly to them. However, the Des Moines Register knows how to poll Iowa caucus voters, and so far, Mitt's the man:
Mitt Romney has sprinted ahead of presidential competitors John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in a new Iowa Poll of likely Republican caucus participants.
The Des Moines Register poll shows Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is the top choice of 30 percent of those who say they definitely or probably will attend the leadoff Iowa caucuses in January.
McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona, nips former New York Mayor Giuliani for second place — 18 percent to 17 percent.
This should get more serious analysis. Mitt has hardly budged from his entry number in January, having hovered around 8% despite organizing far more effectively than his competition. This kind of response in Iowa could foretell a breakout summer for the former Massachussetts governor.
This poll excluded Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich, though, and when the Register included them, it left the three frontrunners in a dead heat. That indicates an eventul run by either or both could seriously dent Romney's momentum. Assuming both run, it means a wide-open caucus for the Republicans, and perhaps a preview of a bruising primary run that might require a convention fight to settle.
The Democrats have another conundrum. John Edwards and his populist stands have resonated with Iowans, and have put him in the lead among likely caucus voters. Hillary comes in third, a very poor showing for a presumptive frontrunner (as with Rudy Giuliani for the GOP). Barack Obama barely edges her out for second place, again likely because of Obama's populist rhetoric. Unlike the GOP, though, the top three have no real competition, eating up over 70% of caucus voters between them.
Both national committees may be feeling a little nervous about the dynamics so far. It looks like the first wide-open presidential race since 1928 might turn into a real nailbiter all the way.