WASHINGTON — So much coverage of the 2008 White House race has focused on the front-runners and superstars -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama and Fred Thompson -- that it can be hard for the third-place contenders to break from the pack. But while national audiences may be fixated on the big guns, polls have shown voters in early primary states are paying attention to the littl(er) guys, particularly John Edwards on the Democratic side and Mitt Romney among the GOP.
Edwards, who has been more or less running for president since he and John Kerry lost in 2004, has until recently enjoyed broad support in Iowa, where the Democratic candidates met for a debate this weekend. But just as Obama's rise has bumped the former North Carolina senator to third place in national polls, a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey shows Clinton, Edwards and Obama now running neck-and-neck among Hawkeye State Democrats.
CBS News pollsters zeroed in on Edwards in a recent survey and found a tepid response to his candidacy among Democratic primary voters, despite his recent attempts to adopt a more forceful tone on the campaign trail. In a three-way matchup with Clinton and Obama, Edwards landed about 30 points behind the former and 10 points behind the latter. And Edwards supporters were the least energized of the bunch, with only a 43-percent plurality saying they "strongly favor" his candidacy.
Edwards, who only served one term in the Senate, apparently has a leg up on Obama in one area that's proving a major battleground in the Democratic race: experience. About half of all CBS respondents said Edwards has the "right kind of experience" to be president, compared with just 29 percent saying the same of Obama. However, on the question of who is more likely to bring change to Washington (a measure that some pollsters have found to be more important to Democratic voters), Obama far outstrips both Edwards and Clinton.
The cornerstone of Edwards' campaign has been his commitment to combating poverty, but it looks as if that message isn't getting across amid media reports of his lavish mansion and infamous $400 haircut . Only 9 percent of respondents said a potential President Edwards would enact policies favoring the poor, and a 30-percent plurality suspected his administration would cater primarily to the rich. About a quarter predicted he'd favor the middle class.
The chattering classes have taken note of Edwards' increased reliance on his wife, Elizabeth, to get the message out and, when necessary, take shots at her husband's rivals. So far, this is one Edwards strategy that doesn't appear to be turning voters off. About two-thirds told CBS pollsters that Elizabeth Edwards' involvement in the campaign has been just right.
Romney Gets A Boost From Ames
While Edwards seems to be struggling to keep his top-tier position in the Democratic primary race, Mitt Romney is faring increasingly well on the GOP side. The former Massachusetts governor's favorability rating shot up 11 points in about as many days, according to the latest figures from Gallup.
In a Republican primary matchup, Romney also saw his support rise 6 points to 14 percent among GOP voters, putting him above John McCain for the first time in Gallup polling and about a stone's throw away from second-place Fred Thompson.
Romney's bump may be attributable to his Aug. 11 win at the Iowa GOP straw poll, an early gauge of campaign support and resources that is closely watched in political circles. About a quarter of all respondents and one-third of Republicans correctly identified Romney as the winner of that contest.
Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.