PEEK

It's a Real Race in Iowa: Obama Takes the Lead for the First Time

Steve Benen: It appears recent criticism of Clinton from Edwards and Obama is having an effect.
This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

All the usual caveats apply -- it's just one poll, there are still six weeks until the caucuses, anything can happen, the margin of error is important, and Iowa is a notoriously difficult place to conduct reliable polls, in part because it's hard to know exactly who is going to caucus.

But having said that, there haven't been too many polls this year showing anyone but Hillary Clinton leading in a key Democratic contest. It's why the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll has raised quite a few eyebrows.
The top three Democratic presidential contenders remain locked in a close battle in Iowa, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) seeing her advantages diminish on key issues, including the questions of experience and which candidate is best prepared to handle the war in Iraq, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) draws support from 30 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, compared with 26 percent for Clinton and 22 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.). New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson received 11 percent.
It's the first poll from any news outlet to show Obama reaching the 30% threshold since the race began.

The key to understanding the trend in Iowa seems to be the split between voters who value experience and those who value change. On the prior, Clinton is far and away the leading candidate. Unfortunately for the New York senator, right now more Iowans are looking for the latter -- 55% of poll participants listed a "new direction and new ideas" as their top priority, whereas 33% favored "strength and experience." The gap between the two keeps getting bigger.

And when it comes to which candidate is the best agent of change, it's not even close -- Obama 43%, Edwards 25%, Clinton 17%.

Just as importantly, it appears recent criticism of Clinton from Edwards and Obama is having an effect.
[Clinton] appears more vulnerable on questions of character. Thirty-one percent found Obama to be the most honest and trustworthy, about double the percentage who said the same of Clinton. While about three-quarters credited both Obama and Edwards with speaking their mind on issues, only 50 percent said Clinton is willing enough to say what she really thinks. Forty-five percent said she is not sufficiently candid.
There's been some talk for weeks that Obama would be the biggest beneficiary of Edwards' attacks on Clinton -- Edwards would weaken Clinton's support, undermine his own standing by going negative, and Obama would be there to pick up the pieces. At least for now, that seems to be playing out.

As for the issues, Iraq and healthcare dominate.
Iraq and health care dominate as the campaign's top issues. A third of likely voters described the war as the biggest issue in their choice for the nominee, while 26 percent said it is health care. Ten percent highlighted the economy and jobs, and all other issues were in the single digits.
The race at the local level only somewhat resembles the national campaign. While Clinton held a 51-point lead on the question of which Democrat would best handle the issue of health care in a national Post-ABC poll in late September, she now has a narrow nine-point advantage on that question in Iowa.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.
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