Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean stretched his slim lead in Iowa over Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt to three percentage points with a week to go before the state’s caucuses, according to a Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll released on Monday.
The former Vermont governor picked up one percentage point on Gephardt in the three-day tracking poll to lead 26-23 percent, with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry climbing two points to 16 percent and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards dropping one point to 12 percent.
“Dean had another good day,” pollster John Zogby said, adding Dean was still enjoying the dividends of Friday’s endorsement by Iowa’s most influential Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin. “But the day belongs to John Kerry.”
The rolling poll of about 500 likely caucus-goers was taken Friday through Sunday and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent, putting Dean’s lead within the margin. The poll will continue each day through the Jan. 19 caucuses.
The Iowa caucuses are the first big prize in the Democratic race for the right to challenge President Bush in November, and Dean and Gephardt have battled for the top spot in the state’s polls for months.
Edwards pulled within one percentage point of Kerry for third place on Sunday, but Kerry strengthened his hold on the slot even as Edwards earned the endorsement of the state’s biggest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, which called him “a cut above the others.”
Zogby said it might be too early for the impact of the Register’s choice to show up in the poll, although the paper’s backing of Democrat Bill Bradley in 2000 did not stop a big win for former Vice President Al Gore that year.
With one week to go until the caucuses, 14 percent of likely participants are still undecided, the poll found.
Zogby said Kerry’s strong day on Sunday had turned it into a three-way race among self-identified liberals, those with a college education, union members, those who are afraid of losing a job and voters in households earning more than $50,000.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich climbed one percentage point to 3 percent, while Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who are not competing in Iowa, each dropped a percentage point to 2 percent.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun were at 1 percent each.
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 included respondents who said they were likely to attend the caucuses.
The latest polling was conducted before Sunday night’s final debate in Iowa, in which the candidates clashed sharply on racial issues with Sharpton questioning Dean’s record on hiring minorities during his more than 11 years as governor.