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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean greets members of the audience after speaking at a campaign event in Berlin, N.H., on Saturday.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/11/2004 5:51:37 PM ET 2004-01-11T22:51:37

As the Democratic presidential hopefuls prepared to square off in a debate to be broadcast Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV, a new MSNBC/Reuters Zogby poll of likely participants in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses showed that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt are locked in a tight race.

In the survey, released Sunday, Dean drew 25 percent while Gephardt got 23 percent, in what amounts to a statistical tie. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

“It’s very, very tight,” pollster John Zogby said. “It’s a close race and it probably will go right to the end.”

Iowa Democrats will gather in nearly 2,000 precinct caucuses across the state on the evening of Jan. 19 in the first test of voter strength in the Democratic nominating process.

Dean has far surpassed the other eight democratic hopefuls in his fund-raising, having collected $40 million in 2003.


Sunday's poll of likely Iowa caucus attendees showed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in the third position with 15 percent, followed by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with 13.5 percent. Other contenders were in single digits.

Nearly 14 percent of those Zogby interviewed said they were not sure who they would support. And interviews by MSNBC.com with rank-and-file Democrats across the state Sunday found that many are still undecided, with some saying they felt they needed another in-person visit with a candidate to help them make up their mind.

In the wake of Thursday night's NBC News report on comments Dean made four years ago dismissing the Iowa caucuses as “dominated by special interests,” polling by the Gephardt campaign showed that negative perceptions of Dean among Iowa voters had grown sharply. But the Zogby poll showed that only 23 percent had an unfavorable view of him. Eighteen percent of those interviewed said they had an unfavorable view of Gephardt.

Zogby International conducted interviews of 502 likely caucus voters from Thursday through Saturday. Iowa’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, which is read statewide, endorsed Edwards on Sunday.

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Party activists report that there is an undercurrent of support for Edwards, although interviews with voters Saturday found that some still had doubts about his level of experience. Edwards has served in the Senate since 1999, prior to which he was a highly successful trial lawyer.

“I want the man who will beat Bush, that’s my primary concern,” said undecided voter Brenda Krause, a pension administrator from Nora Springs, Iowa, who showed up to hear Gephardt at an event in Charles City. “My concern is who’s going to carry the South?”

Asked about Edwards, Krause said, “He’s never been a consideration for me. I probably didn’t hear enough about him on TV and radio.”

Meanwhile a Newsweek poll of Democrats across the country released on Saturday found that Dean wins the support of 24 percent of registered Democrats. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who has chosen to by-pass the Iowa contest, has 12 percent, as do Gephardt and Kerry.

For the Newsweek poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates interviewed 1,001 adults aged 18 and older on Jan. 8 and Jan. 9. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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