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With caucuses near, candidates hunt for undecided Iowa voters

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: A quarter of likely Republican Iowa caucus go-ers are undecided
  • NEW: Poll finds 17 percent of Democratic caucus go-ers are undecided
  • Clinton and Obama essentially tied in Iowa, new CNN poll finds
  • Romney and Huckabee lead GOP race in Hawkeye state, poll finds
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- The presidential candidates began the new year making their pitches to undecided voters and working hard to motivate their supporters to get out and participate in Thursday's Iowa caucuses.

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Barack Obama appears with daughters Malia, left, and Sasha during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa.

It is crunch time as campaigns offer everything from babysitting services to snow shovels to help supporters get to the caucuses.

The candidates were crisscrossing Iowa, appearing at rallies, house parties, restaurants -- wherever voters can be found.

Also the campaigns and independent groups working here are making aggressive outreach efforts through phone banks and canvassing.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Tuesday shows both the Democratic and Republican races to be tight, with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama essentially tied for the lead in the Democratic race in Iowa and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee neck-and-neck in the Republican race in the Hawkeye State.

But even with the hundreds of campaign appearances, phone calls to voters and a barrage of television ads in the last few months there are still a large number of undecided voters.

In the new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 17 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers said they are still trying to decide who to support, and 11 percent said they were leaning but not definitely decided. More than a quarter of Republican caucus-goers said they were still trying to decide, and 21 percent said they were leaning.

The Iowa contest could prove decisive in the tight Democratic contest. Among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York wins the most support, with 33 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers backing Clinton and 31 percent supporting Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

But taking into account the survey's sampling error of 4.5 percentage points in the Democratic race, the race is virtually tied. Video Watch CNN Bill Schneider analyze the new poll »

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is in third place in the poll at 22 percent.

Iowa voters are famous for wanting detailed information from the candidates. Not only do campaigns distribute detailed position papers at events, but the candidates often answer voters' questions.

Edwards has gone a step further -- setting up a special Web site where voters can submit questions they were not able to ask in person, and he is pledging to get them answered before Thursday night.

Campaigns were also working to finalize massive get-out-the-vote efforts to get their supporters to the caucuses.

The Clinton campaign was distributing hundreds of shovels to help clear the sidewalks of supporters which may be key to getting the first-time caucus goers to the polls. The Obama camp is organizing baby-sitting services for its supporters.

With just a few hours left, candidates and their operations have two aims -- to shore up the commitment of those supporters already in their camp and to figure out how to sway those still trying to make up their minds. To that end each campaign makes sure voters attending events sign information cards to allow for quick follow-up.

On the campaign trail, the two Democratic front-runners in Iowa returned to the messages they have being consistently emphasizing the last couple of weeks.

Speaking to supporters in Ames, Iowa, Clinton said she was ready to face "the unexpected and unpredictable challenges and opportunities" that the next president will face.

"As far as I'm concerned we are the people who are best at solving problems, meeting challenges, being prepared for whatever the future holds," she said. "So, I am running for president to renew America's purpose, to provide that kind of positive change that Americans deserve in their own lives, in their country and the world, and to have a new beginning for America."

While telling Iowa voters that their first-in-the-nation caucus give them "extraordinary privilege," Obama emphasized to Iowa voters that he would be a candidate that would bring about a new style of politics.

"I decided to run because I was positive the American people were hungry for ... a politics that delivered common sense instead of PR and spin," Obama told voters during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa. The Illinois senator was joined on stage by his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters.

While all of the Democratic candidates were in Iowa on New Year's Day, the Republicans were more spread out across the country, possibly reflecting the fact that the Iowa contest has come down to a race between Huckabee and Romney.

In the battle for the GOP nomination in Iowa, Romney leads with the backing of 31 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, with Huckabee at 28 percent, Thompson at 13 percent and McCain at 10 percent, according to the CNN/Opinion Research poll.

The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

The race between Romney and Huckabee has become heated in recent weeks, with Romney airing commercials attacking Huckabee for his record on immigration and tax policy.

On Monday, Huckabee planned to respond with a commercial criticizing Romney's record but later announced during a press conference that he had decided to pull the ad, saying he wanted to remain a positive campaign. Video Watch Huckabee explain why he pulled the ad »

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"If a man gains the whole world and loses his own soul, what does it profit him?" Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher, said. "I decided -- even the presidency as important as it is -- if I can't do it with self respect and with decency, it ain't worth doing if it's not done right.

"The pundits think I'm crazy," he continued. "They may be right. Thursday night I'd like you to prove the pundits are wrong and that principles matter." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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