POLITICS

Obama Rivals Say Des Moines Register Poll Can't Be Trusted

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ames, Iowa -- Playing down the importance of the Des Moines Register Iowa Poll - Hillary Clinton booster and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack cited two other surveys Tuesday morning when he introduced her at a New Year's Day town hall meeting in here.

"Two polls out this morning indicate Sen. Clinton is ahead," Vilsack told the crowd, citing two other newly-released surveys by CNN and Zogby. "Momentum is on our side, I can feel it."

Clinton's pitch was aimed heavily at undecided Iowans. Her campaign had built the crowd by scrubbing their lists for undecided caucus-goers who were open to Clinton's message and making sure they turned out to hear her speak.

Joined by her mother Dorothy Rodham and daughter Chelsea on a frigid day, Hillary said she knew she was competing for Iowans' attention with six football games -- including an Arkansas game -- something she said she learned from her husband Bill.

The message from Clinton, as well as from John Edwards' campaign, was meant to dilute the impact of the respected Des Moines Register survey, which found that Obama had widened his lead to seven points, placing him for the first time outside the poll's margin of error.

Last night at the Obama headquarters on Locust Street in downtown Des Moines, staffers who were spending New Year's there - and a steady stream of supporters coming in from the cold - were ebullient over the poll results. Not only did it portent well for Caucus Day, but they believed it could impact undecided voters who were worried about Obama's electability.

That's why, as soon as the poll results hit the Web at 9:00 pm Iowa time, Obama's chief rivals blasted out memos knocking down the findings and offering "guidance" to reporters who were rushing out their final campaign stories of 2007.

"Is the poll accurate? There are good reasons to think it is NOT," wrote Edwards spokesman Eric Schwartz in an email sent out twenty minutes after the poll was released.

Schwartz said the fact that the poll was conducted over a holiday weekend made it difficult to obtain an accurate sample. He also said its measurement of independent and undecided voters was at odds with Iowa history.

Clinton pollster Mark Penn agreed. In his own analysis, Penn declared, "The Des Moines Register poll adopts an unprecedented new turnout model for the caucuses, and its new poll is out of sync with the other polling done in the race."

But the stature of the Des Moines Register survey -- the most respected in the state -- gave a big boost to Obama's crew Monday night. Within minutes of the poll's release, an Obama staffer at the Des Moines Holiday Inn was gushing into his cell phone, "Happy New Year Dad! I think we're gonna win this!"

Amidst revelry at the crowded Obama headquarters, staffers gathered for a midnight conference call where the Illinois Senator addressed the troops. Staffers ate pizza and carried in champagne, but the word last night was moderation in order to be in good shape for another long day on Tuesday. Obama staffers privately cautioned the troops not to be overconfident.

The two polls trumpeted by the Clinton camp Tuesday showed the New York Senator leading her two rivals, albeit within the statistical margin of error.

Clinton stressed her experience at the town hall, and while she did not quite use the words of her husband Bill - who said electing Obama president would be a roll of the dice - she did say "I am not asking that you take me on a leap of faith."

"I am asking you to look at the evidence and the record," Senator Clinton said, because "we don't have any margin for error or time to waste. We need a new beginning for America." She did not mention her chief rivals by name.

Perhaps in a sign that the Clinton camp is trying to keep the mood light in the final push before Caucus Day, campaign chairman Terry McAullife plans to host a "karaoke extravaganza" for staffers and supporters Tuesday night at a bar in Des Moines.

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