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Four-way Democratic race tightens in Iowa

John Kerry slipped and Howard Dean gained ground in Iowa in a tightening four-way race ahead of Monday’s Democratic state caucuses, according to a new MSNBC poll.
Presidential hopeful Rep. Dick Gephardt acknowledges applause before speaking to Union workers from the back of a pickup truck in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday.M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Democrat John Kerry slipped and Howard Dean gained ground in Iowa in a tightening four-way presidential race ahead of Monday’s state caucuses, according to a Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll released on Saturday.

Kerry held a slim lead over Dean, 22.6 percent to 22.1 percent, in the latest three-day tracking poll, with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt in third place at 19.1 percent and Edwards moving up to 17.9 percent.

Dean gained three percentage points in one day while Kerry, who has roared to the top of the Democratic pack in Iowa during the last week, dropped by more than one point.

Edwards also picked up another percentage point to draw within easy range of the leaders in the first major contest of the Democratic race to pick a challenger for President Bush.

“Edwards had his best night ever, and Dean had a solid night,” pollster John Zogby said of the polling on Friday. The poll found 11 percent of likely caucus-goers were still undecided two days before Monday’s caucuses.

The tracking poll of 503 likely caucus-goers was taken Wednesday through Friday and will continue each day until the caucuses. It has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A tracking poll combines the results of three consecutive nights of polling, then drops the last night’s results each time a new night is added. It allows pollsters to record shifts in voter sentiment as they happen.

Favorable ratings
Zogby said all four candidates continued to score very strong favorable ratings, and fewer participants in the poll expressed doubts about Dean’s ability to beat Bush in November.

Dean and Gephardt have battled back and forth for months for the top spot in polls in Iowa, but the late charges by Edwards, a North Carolina senator, and Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, have scrambled the Democratic picture in what had become a bitter campaign atmosphere.

Dean, the former Vermont governor, and Gephardt, the Missouri congressman, decided on Friday to pull their harshest attack ads off the air in Iowa after pounding each other over the war in Iraq and Dean’s past views on Medicare and Social Security.

MASON CITY, IA - JANUARY 17: Democratic presidential hopeful former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean hands out pancakes to voters during a campaign rally January 17, 2004 in Mason City, Iowa. Dean is continuing his bus tour of Iowa and reminding caucus-goers that the race is still close and every vote counts. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Howard DeanJoe Raedle / Getty Images North America

Dean also has seen his lead in polls in New Hampshire, which holds a primary on Jan. 27, one week after Iowa, vanish under the advance of retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire.

Clark was at 3 percent in the Iowa poll, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich at 2 percent, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman at 1 percent and former civil rights activist Al Sharpton at less than 1 percent. Lieberman also is not competing in Iowa.

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

Participation requires more of a commitment than private ballot-box voting, making it harder to gauge who will actually attend. Only about 100,000 people are expected to turn out for caucuses across Iowa.