msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/13/2004 11:36:40 AM ET 2004-01-13T16:36:40

With six days left before Iowa voters head for their state's caucuses, Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean has widened his lead over Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, according to an MSNBC-commissioned poll released Tuesday, although the pair essentially remain deadlocked within the poll's margin of error.

The former Vermont governor picked up two percentage points on Gephardt in the three-day tracking poll to lead 28-23 percent as the race for the Democratic nomination’s first big prize headed into the final stretch. The margin of error in the daily tracking poll from Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby is 4.5 percentage points.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards continued their tight battle for third place, with Kerry climbing one point to 17 percent and Edwards picking up two points to 14 percent.

“Kerry has been on fire two days in a row,” pollster John Zogby said, while Edwards caught a bounce from his endorsement on Sunday by the state’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register.

“This has the potential to be a four-way race,” he said. “All four top candidates are highly regarded among voters.”

With six days to go, 12 percent of likely-caucus goers are still undecided, down two percentage points in a day.

The right to challenge Bush
The rolling poll of 502 likely caucus-goers was taken Saturday through Monday and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. The poll will continue each day through next Monday’s caucuses.

Nine Democrats are vying for the right to challenge President George W. Bush in November. Dean and Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader who won Iowa during his first presidential bid in 1988, have battled for the top spot in the state for months.

Gephardt’s supporters appear to be the most intense, the poll found, with three in four saying their support is very strong. That compares to “strong support” of 63 percent for Edwards, 56 percent for Dean, and 50 percent for Kerry.

Polling in Iowa is complicated by the unique nature of the caucus system, which requires participants to leave their homes on a typically bitter cold night and gather with neighbors for hours before publicly declaring their support for a candidate.

The ability to identify and turn out supporters is critical to each of the campaigns. The Zogby poll only includes respondents who said they were likely to attend the caucuses.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich registered 3 percent in the poll, retired Gen. Wesley Clark was at 2 percent and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman dropped slightly to 1 percent. Clark and Lieberman are not competing in Iowa.

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was at 1 percent and civil rights activist Al Sharpton was at less than 1 percent.

Monday’s polling came after the final debate before the caucuses on Sunday, at which Sharpton questioned Dean’s record of black hiring for senior Cabinet positions while serving as governor. Dean defended his record.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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