December 29, 2007

Dead Heat In The Iowa Cold

Robert Novak reports on a massive polling effort that surveyed 15,000 pledged attendees of the Iowa caucuses. Unlike the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg, whose partnership could only dig out 174 such subjects, the poll results seem much more predictive -- in their own way (via Memeorandum):

While public polls show Mike Huckabee leading Mitt Romney in Iowa, a new survey of an oversized sample shows Huckabee slipping and no longer ahead of Romney.

A private corporate interest commissioned a phone bank survey of 15,000 Iowans who say they will attend Republican presidential caucuses Jan. 3. It showed Romney with 30 percent and Huckabee at 26 percent. Sen. John McCain was third with 12 percent and Rudy Giuliani fourth at 9 percent. Fred Thompson had only 1 percent, with slightly fewer votes than Rep. Ron Paul (also at 1 percent).

Numbers for both Huckabee and Romney dipped sharply when Iowans were asked their second choice. In contrast, McCain was the leading second-choice candidate for both Huckabee and Romney voters.

The LAT/Bloomberg poll showed Huckabee with a double-digit lead over Romney, but even without the wafer-thin sample, that would have been an outlier. Huckabee's lead in Iowa has never been commanding, and this result shows less that Huckabee has slipped than Romney has moved past him while Huckabee plateaued. Novak doesn't provide the margin of error, but four points would likely fall within it. It's a dead heat.

Who does this help? Romney has a much stronger ground game in Iowa and can get the caucusers to the polls. He's spent millions of dollars to win the state, and that means something in a caucus. Organization makes a large impact. However, Huckabee's surprising show on a shoestring budget will cause some Republicans to question whether Romney can win states where his money advantage disappears -- especially if John McCain can seriously challenge Romney in New Hampshire.

McCain looks to be a factor in Iowa, too. Although he comes in a distant third, a third-place finish is better than he'd hoped just a couple of months ago. More importantly, he appears to be the second choice for both Romney and Huckabee caucusers. If McCain's team can make the pitch against either or both candidates, they may wind up with a more significant finish than even this poll shows -- and that could spell real trouble for Romney in New Hampshire five days later.

Huckabee hasn't really slipped, at least not in this poll -- but Romney had better take care not to step on a banana peel in Iowa.


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