Democratic front-runner John Kerry holds wide leads in Missouri and Arizona and a narrow lead in Oklahoma and has moved into a virtual tie in South Carolina two days before key presidential contests in those states, according to a MSNBC/Reuters Zogby poll released on Sunday.
The surging Kerry, showing no signs of slowing down after kicking off the Democratic race with back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, held a 29-point lead in Missouri, the biggest prize in Tuesday’s round of seven state contests.
The senator from Massachusetts also held a 12-point lead over retired Gen. Wesley Clark in Arizona in the latest three-day tracking poll, although Clark had trimmed 9 points off his lead there in the last two days.
Kerry, however, moved past Clark in Oklahoma to grab a 2-point lead. He also gained ground in a seesawing race in South Carolina and now trails John Edwards by only 1 point in a state where Edwards is counting on a win.
Pollster John Zogby said the South Carolina race was particularly fluid.
“On one hand, Kerry led for the one day of polling, as undecideds creeped up in numbers,” Zogby said. “On the other hand, Edwards holds a three-to-one lead among leaners.”
North Dakota, Delaware and New Mexico also hold nominating contests on Tuesday, the biggest day so far in the race to find a Democratic challenger to President George W. Bush.
Kerry is aiming for a sweep that would knock several of his challengers out of the race, while Clark and Edwards are hoping for breakthrough wins that could propel them into a showdown with Kerry in later contests.
Dean's slip continues
One-time front-runner Howard Dean, already looking past Tuesday to a Feb. 7 contest in Michigan, trails badly in all four states being polled. His best showing is third place in Arizona, 22 points behind Kerry and 10 points behind Clark.
The poll of 600 likely primary voters in four states --Missouri, Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma -- was taken Thursday through Saturday and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points. It will continue through Tuesday, the day of the primaries and caucuses.
A tracking poll combines the results of three consecutive nights of polling, then drops the first night’s results each time a new night is added. It allows pollsters to record shifts in voter sentiment as they happen.
The poll found all four states still have large pools of undecided voters, ranging from 13 percent in Arizona to 23 percent in South Carolina.
A look at each state
Missouri - Kerry leads Edwards, the senator from North Carolina, 43 percent to 14 percent. Dean, the former Vermont governor, is at 8 percent, Clark, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and civil rights activist Al Sharpton at 3 percent and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio at less than 1 percent.
South Carolina - Edwards leads Kerry 24 percent to 23 percent. Dean and Clark are at 8 percent, Sharpton at 7 percent, Lieberman at 4 percent and Kucinich at 1 percent.
Arizona - Kerry leads Clark 36 percent to 24 percent, with Dean at 14 percent, Lieberman at 6 percent, Edwards at 4 percent and Kucinich at 3 percent.
Oklahoma - Kerry leads Clark 25 percent to 23 percent, with Edwards at 16 percent, Dean and Lieberman at 6 percent, Sharpton and Kucinich at 1 percent.