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Poll demonstrates fluidity in gauging Iowa

Kerry, Dean, Gephardt at top in tracking poll

John Kerry speaks in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday.
John Kerry speaks in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday.

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DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) -- The Democratic presidential race in Iowa is a virtual three-way tie between John Kerry, Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt four days before the state's caucuses, according to a Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll released on Thursday. The poll's results emphasize the fluidity in the race and difficulty in gauging its outcome.

In the latest rolling three-day poll, Kerry registered 21.6 percent with Dean and Gephardt both at 20.9 percent. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards gained two percentage points to 17.1 percent, well within the poll's margin of error, putting all four top contenders in a statistical tie.

Polling in Iowa is complicated by the unique nature of the caucus system, which requires participants to leave their homes on a typically bitter cold night and gather with neighbors for hours before publicly declaring their support for a candidate.

The ability to identify and turn out supporters is critical to each of the campaigns. The Zogby poll only included respondents who said they were likely to attend the caucuses.

"It's a three-way tie, and Kerry and Gephardt are now tied among union voters as Dean's labor support slips," Zogby said. With Edwards continuing to gain ground "this race is actually a four-way statistical dead heat.

"We might see these candidates exchanging leads all the way to the end," Zogby said, with 11 percent of likely caucus-goers still undecided and many switching their support as they take a harder look at the choices ahead of Monday's contest.

All the candidates plan an extensive schedule of campaigning in Iowa in the race's final days. Dean and Gephardt have been exchanging heated attacks in the race to the finish. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

The rolling poll of 502 likely caucus-goers was taken Monday through Wednesday and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. The poll will continue each day until Monday's caucuses.

The polling was concluded before Wednesday night's news that former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun would drop out of the race and throw her support to Dean. Braun's move leaves eight Democrats vying for the right to challenge President George W. Bush in November.

Dean and Gephardt have battled back and forth for months for the top spot in polls in Iowa, the first big contest in the nominating race, but the late charges by Edwards and Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, have scrambled the Democratic picture.

Dean, the former Vermont governor, still holds a large but shrinking lead over retired Gen. Wesley Clark in polls in New Hampshire, which has a January 27 primary one week after Iowa.

Gephardt, the congressman from neighboring Missouri who won Iowa during his first presidential bid in 1988, must win Iowa to remain in the race.

Clark and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich were at 3 percent in the latest poll, while Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Braun were at 1 percent, with former civil rights activist Al Sharpton at less than 1 percent.

Clark and Lieberman are not competing in Iowa.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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