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Rep, Dem Candidates in Early Primary States

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American Research Group (ARG) has reported polls of Republican and Democratic support in four early primary/caucus states. The polls are of 600 respondents for each party (with partisans plus independents who say they will participate in the party primary or caucus.) The field periods were IA 12/19-23, NH 12/26-27, NV 12/19-23 and SC 12/21-23.

First, the Republicans.

The strikingly obvious result is that none of the candidates outside the top four have any traction at this point. While there is time yet to "emerge", Brownback, Gilmore, Hagel, Huckabee, Hunter, Pataki and Thompson have a long way to go.

So meanwhile attention remains focused on two "front runners" and two "maybes". Giuliani and McCain each lead in two states. Giuliani leads in Iowa (28-26) and Nevada (31-25) while McCain leads in New Hampshire (29-25) and South Carolina (35-28). And let's not forget the margin of error, which allows all of these to be essentially "even".

The "maybes" are Gingrich and Romney, in that order. While Gingrich trails the top two by a substantial margin, he has significant support (14%-22%) in all four states. While the former Speaker has considerable baggage, he would be a more mainstream Republican nominee than either McCain or Giuliani-- a fact often overlooked in the enthusiasm for McCain at least. Romney is far back, above the "zeros" but well short of even Gingrich's status. But Romney has the advantage of being a new face who may yet mobilize support among those Republicans who distrust McCain and may come to weigh Giuliani's more liberal social issue positions. Still, Romney has to improve considerably in at least two of these early states to become seriously competitive.

On the Democratic side.

Here too are a number of hopefuls who are currently at or very near zero support. Biden, Clark, Dodd, Gravel and Richardson are all under 5% everywhere. Kucinich is slightly stronger, hitting 5% in Iowa, but below that in the other states.

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Vilsack does pretty well in his home state of Iowa, but has yet to gain any support elsewhere. And Kerry does poorly for a past winner in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton continues to lead the field in each state, so the question remains who will become her primary challenger. In these data, John Edwards and Barack Obama each finish second in two states. Edwards leads Obama in Iowa (20-10) and South Carolina (31-10). Obama leads in New Hampshire (21-18) and Nevada (12-8).

In presidential primaries with a clear front runner, the key dynamic is driven by the emergence of a clear alternative to the front runner. On the Democratic side that battle for emergence as an alternative to Clinton is clearly underway. On the Republican side, we have a legitimate battle for the front spot, but with two candidates who both have substantial vulnerabilities within the party. There we may have a more interesting contest.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.