Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean held a shrinking three-point lead and John Kerry moved into a dead heat with Richard Gephardt for second place in Iowa five days before the state’s caucuses, according to a Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
In a shifting race for the Democratic campaign’s first big prize, Dean dropped four percentage points to 24 percent in the rolling three-day tracking poll and Kerry gained four points to tie Gephardt in second place at 21 percent.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards gained one percentage point to 15 percent, setting up a tight race to the finish among the four top contenders in Monday’s caucuses.
“There’s major movement every day in Iowa,” pollster John Zogby said, with 13 percent of likely caucus-goers still undecided and all of the top candidates planning an intensive schedule of campaigning in the state in the final days.
The rolling poll of 501 likely caucus-goers was taken Sunday through Tuesday and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. The poll will continue each day through the caucuses.
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, has gained six percentage points since the first poll was published on Sunday and actually led in Monday’s round of polling, while Dean had his worst day, Zogby said.
Kerry is contending with both Dean and Gephardt among what were considered some of their strongest voting blocs, challenging Dean for college-educated voters and Gephardt for union votes.
“This is officially a three-way race,” Zogby said.
Nine Democrats are vying for the right to challenge President Bush in November, with Dean and Gephardt battling back and forth for the top spot in Iowa polls for months.
Dean, the former Vermont governor, holds a big lead in polls in New Hampshire, which has a Jan. 27 primary one week after Iowa, but could face a growing challenge there from retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
Kerry hopes a strong finish in Iowa could give him enough momentum to leap back into the picture in New Hampshire, where he led in early polls before being buried under Dean’s surge over the summer.
Gephardt, the congressman from neighboring Missouri who won Iowa during his first presidential bid in 1988, had remained static at 23 percent in the first three days of Iowa polls but dropped two percentage points in Wednesday’s poll.
Clark was up one percentage point to 3 percent, with Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich at 2 percent, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun at 1 percent and former civil rights activist Al Sharpton at less than 1 percent.
Clark and Lieberman are not competing in Iowa.
The polling was conducted as Dean dropped his front-runner’s stance of staying above the fray on Monday and returned to his early fiery attacks on his Washington-based rivals for supporting the war in Iraq.