Iowa Shifts To The Populists

The Des Moines Register poll, the most reliable indicator for likely Iowa caucus-goers, shows major shifts in both parties for the presidential caucuses that will take place in five weeks. Iowa apparently has gone populist in both parties, with Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee surging to new leads in the state. For the national frontrunners, this may actually be good news:

Barack Obama has pulled ahead in the race for Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses, while the party’s national frontrunner Hillary Clinton has slipped to second in the leadoff nominating state, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.
Despite the movement, the race for 2008’s opening nominating contest remains very competitive about a month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, just over half of likely caucusgoers who favor a candidate saying they could change their minds.
Obama, an Illinois senator, leads for the first time in the Register’s poll as the choice of 28 percent of likely caucusgoers, up from 22 percent in October. Clinton, a New York senator, was the preferred candidate of 25 percent, down from 29 percent in the previous poll.

Hillary should have little concern over this result. She has commanding leads in the larger states and a much better organization than Barack Obama. Losing Iowa only would put a small speed bump on her way to the nomination. If Hillary doesn’t have a 50-state strategy for the nomination, she’ll manage with a 49-state strategy instead. The Iowa downturn for her offers more of a preview of the general election, where her inevitability will not be taken for granted.
Rudy Giuliani may be the biggest beneficiary of the shift seen on the Republican side — or maybe even John McCain:

Huckabee wins the support of 29 percent of Iowans who say they definitely or probably will attend the Republican Party’s caucuses on Jan. 3. That’s a gain of 17 percentage points since the last Iowa Poll was taken in early October, when Huckabee trailed both Romney and Fred Thompson.
Other poll findings indicate that the former Arkansas governor is making the most of a low-budget campaign by tapping into the support of Iowa’s social conservatives.
Romney, who has invested more time and money campaigning in the state than any other GOP candidate, remains in the thick of the Iowa race with the backing of 24 percent of likely caucusgoers. But that’s a drop of 5 points since October for the former Massachusetts governor.

Mitt Romney has spent over $7 million in Iowa and looked to have it locked. Suddenly out of nowhere, Mike Huckabee has ridden less than $350,000 to a seventeen-point surge in the state — and that bodes very ill for Romney’s path to the nomination. He hoped to build enough momentum and credibility in Iowa and New Hampshire with wins to vault him past Giuliani for the national lead. With new ethics allegations dogging Giuliani, that could have worked, but a loss in Iowa after spending all of that money will almost certainly doom Romney.
Could Huckabee challenge for the nomination? Anything is possible, but Huckabee doesn’t have a lot of funds, nor has he made progress like this anywhere but Iowa. He’ll wind up in the soup in New Hampshire and could do somewhat better in South Carolina, but it’s hard to imagine him going farther than that.
This could also help John McCain. The New Hampshire Union-Leader endorsed him today, as expected, and he currently runs behind Romney in a state he won in 2000. If Romney stumbles, conservatives unhappy with both Huckabee and Giuliani might rally to McCain if he can pull out a win in New Hampshire. A Romney loss in Iowa might make that more likely.
Could conservatives forgive McCain-Feingold long enough to support McCain? Possibly, especially given the poor traction Fred Thompson has gained since entering the race. He has fallen far off the pace in Iowa and New Hampshire. Conservatives who saw him as an alternative to the less-reliable center-right candidates in the race have despaired of his impact.
A Huckabee win in Iowa puts everyone into play. This could get very interesting indeed. If McCain makes it all the way back to win even just New Hampshire, it might be the story of the year.

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