As the campaigning in Iowa gives way tonight to the actual caucuses, my final numbers for Iowa are in and they show Senator Barack Obama pulling into a four point lead over former Senator John Edwards, 31% to 27%, with Senator Hillary Clinton down to 24%. When I first started tracking this race the day after Christmas, Clinton actually led by four points, with Edwards in third place. There were twists and turns during the eight days of tracking, but there is very little doubt that Obama picked up steam, Edwards increased his support, and Clinton clearly declined.
These results are based on calls made up to 9PM EST Wednesday and this race is still very close. And let's face it, from here turnout is the name of the game. But the movement to Obama and, to some degree, to Edwards is evident. So is an apparent Clinton fade. Clinton has lost her edge among Democrats, where she is now in a three-way tie, and among Liberals. Obama now leads with Liberals. The three candidates are close with women, though Clinton still leads, but men favor Obama over Edwards 35% to 28%, with only 16% supporting Clinton.
Obama still commands the vote of young people, while Clinton is strong among voters over 65. Interestingly, Obama now has the lead among 2004 Kerry supporters and is near even with Edwards among voters in union households. Half of Edwards 2004 supporters are still with him, really no small feat with the competition so steep this year. Obama has also pulled into the lead in rural areas, but Edwards is still the top second choice among these likely caucus goers, followed by Obama, with Clinton a distant third.
When I redistribute the second choices among supporters of probable unviable candidates, here is what I get: Obama 37.5%, Edwards 33.7%, Clinton 28.8%.
Among Republicans, former Governor Mike Huckabee crossed over past thirty percent and has built a six-point lead over former Governor Mitt Romney, 31% to 25%, as Romney clearly fades. In this final round, former Senator Fred Thompson receives 11%, with Senator John McCain and Congressman Ron Paul tied at 10%.
Huckabee leads among Republicans and Independents, among all age groups under 65, both Conservatives and Very Conservative voters, and women. His lead among Born Agains is solid. While he was being challenged among these groups with some growth in support for Thompson, Thompson's growth has appeared to stem. Should Thompson begin to climb, his votes will no doubt hurt Huckabee. Senator John McCain also is stalled. Should he regain some of footing from earlier in our polling, he will drain support from Romney. Paul has the most intense backers of any Republican candidate. A McCain third place thrusts him into New Hampshire where he is already doing well. A Paul third place would position him to do a second or third place in New Hampshire -- it is the "Live Free or Die" state, after all -- and would be a tremendous embarrassment to big names like McCain, Thompson, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
A final word on Iowa: The issue is change, and Clinton decided to run as an incumbent. When it became clear that voters in Iowa were looking for change, Clinton became the candidate who kept changing -- not the one who symbolized change in Washington. Of course, she can still win tonight in Iowa but the strategy to run as an incumbent, the inheritor of the mantle, the inevitable nominee and president has, at the very least, caused problems. Even if she ekes out a victory, it will likely have meant that, still, nearly two thirds of Democratic caucus-goers were supporting someone else.
Perhaps the biggest problem that Clinton and her team never anticipated is that they, essentially, ended up running against both Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Edwards (the Bobby) tapped into an anger that our polls measured in big numbers. His message is powerful for Democrats and I believe he will move on to New Hampshire. Obama has connected with young people and Iowans looking for hope and opportunity with an energetic message reminiscent of Jack Kennedy. Tomorrow this will still be a three-way race.
On the Republican side, if Romney wins, it will still have been a battle for his political life in a state where he had led by wide margins for most of the year. Huckabee also has tapped into something. Journalists laughed when he held a news conference to pull a negative ad. But he came off as genuine, something that the press corps is perhaps too jaded to appreciate. It appears to have made an intriguing contrast with Romney who opted to go negative. Watching Iowans for many years, I've learned two lessons: they don't like to be told in advance who they are going to vote for and they do like authenticity. Iowa to U.S. politics: "be real."