Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) have taken the lead among Iowans who say they “definitely” or “probably” will attend their respective party caucuses on January 3rd, according to The Des Moines Register‘s latest poll.

This is the first time Obama has beaten Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Register‘s poll (28 percent vs. 25 percent). While Obama has gained 5 percentage points since the last poll in October, this latest result falls within the margin of error of ±4.4 percentage points so the difference between the two candidates is statistically insignificant. However, Hillary has cause for worry, reports the Register:

About 30% of Democratic caucusgoers viewed Sen. Clinton as either mostly or very unfavorably, behind Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska senator Mike Gravel. She topped the list of candidates whose nomination would be one of the biggest disappointments at 27%.

Considering that Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has spent something like $7 million to woo IA caucusgoers – compared to Huckabee’s paltry $300K – he’s the only candidate in either party who is more worried than Hillary right now. The five-point gap between Huckabee and Romney falls just outside the margin of error (29 percent vs. 24 percent). Notes the Register: “Huckabee has come a long way since last May, when he languished in a tie for sixth place in the Register‘s poll, garnering the support of just 4% of likely caucus participants then.” The New York Times observes:

If there was any doubt that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign was seriously concerned about the threat posed to them by Mike Huckabee in Iowa, Mr. Romney’s latest campaign swing through the state surely erased that.

The shift in the dynamics of the race in just the last few weeks was palpable in a myriad of ways. There was the way Mr. Huckabee’s name kept coming up, even in questions from audience members for Mr. Romney throughout the day.

At one forum at a community college on Friday morning, questioners mentioned Mr. Huckabee, who had previously labored in obscurity in the state for months, three different times in the span of just a few minutes.

According to the Register’s poll, Huckabee is particularly strong amongst social conservatives – for instance, amongst self-identified born-again Christians, he is favored by 38 percent to Romney’s 22 percent. The Washington Post explains how he was able to get the most bang for the few bucks he had to spend in IA:

Randy Brinson … is the keeper of a massive e-mail list of … about 71 million contacts, with 25 million identified as belonging to “25 and 45 years old, upwardly mobile, right-of-center, conservative households,” he said. …

How did a doctor from Alabama come to possess one of the most coveted lists in Republican politics? Brinson has actor/director Mel Gibson to thank for that one.

In February 2004, Brinson, who has worked on and off in politics for much of his life, was at a gathering of national religious broadcasters when he ran into a group of people doing the early marketing efforts for Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ.” …

Brinson had been noodling with ideas about how to build a list to reach the Christian community for the better part of a year and had even formed Redeem the Vote, a voter registration organization. The marketers coveted his know-how, and an alliance was born. …

Huckabee got involved with Redeem the Vote on the ground floor, agreeing to serve as the chairman of the organization’s national advisory committee in 2004. …

In Iowa alone, Brinson’s list has produced 414,000 contacts for the Huckabee campaign, a stunning number given that less than one-quarter of that total is expected to vote in January’s Republican caucuses.

While Romney is no doubt surprised that Huckabee has lapped him, Obama may be surprised that he may not be the preferred candidate of minority voters and Clinton may be surprised that she may not be the preferred candidate of feminists.

The WaPo reports that black leaders are divided over whether they should throw their votes to Hillary, who is regarded as “electable,” or to Obama, who is the embodiment of the goals and aspirations of the civil rights movement:

[T]he Clinton-Obama rivalry represents a moment of choice for the black political establishment that grew from the civil rights movement. With the African American vote potentially critical once the primary campaign extends beyond overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire, the divided loyalties are making for a complex landscape in heavily black states such as South Carolina, which will hold its primary Jan. 26, and Georgia and Alabama, which will vote Feb. 5.

As a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times points out, “animosity between Latinos and blacks is the worst-kept secret in race relations in America”:

Across the country – in Plainfield, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Annapolis, Md., and Indianapolis, Ind., among other places – the clash between black and brown has drawn attention, and lots of it, because it involves two groups that some think should be natural allies. At least that’s what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez thought four decades ago. They had a mutual admiration society and passionately believed that blacks and Latinos were equally oppressed minorities and should march in lock step. “Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity,” King wrote to Chavez in 1965. But that rhapsodic notion of black and brown harmony is now the faintest of faint memories. Three years ago, when the Census Bureau proclaimed Latinos the largest minority in the U.S., many blacks loudly grumbled that they would be shoved even further to the margin among minorities.

The hard feelings aside, why should Hispanic voters throw their support to Obama when one of their own – Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) – is also making his own historic run for the White House? These voters, too, may regard Hillary as being the most electable candidate, which puts their votes even more out of reach for Obama.

As for Hillary, her gender has not proved to be the overriding consideration amongst women voters and the Obama campaign is trying to leverage this ambivalence, reports The New York Times:

In the intensifying battle for the votes of Democratic women, Senator Barack Obama’s campaign is trying to turn years of feminist thinking on its head and argue that the best candidate for women may, in fact, be a man. …

Around the country, but especially in the early voting states, many of these women are engaged in a complicated conversation, with a hunger to make history often pushing them in one direction while more conventional considerations, like a candidate’s stand on the war in Iraq, pushing them in another. …

Kate Michelman, a senior adviser to the Edwards campaign and a longtime abortion rights leader, said she told women that Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy was historic and exciting, and that “we have spent a long time and traveled a long road to get to this point.” But she added, “That doesn’t bring us to the place where gender becomes the only thing or even the most important factor determining our decision.”

With just four weeks before the Iowa caucuses, in an intensely competitive battle against Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, the Obama campaign is ratcheting up its women’s effort. It is, in some ways, a strategic counterpoint to Mrs. Clinton’s wooing of black voters, a group that can be so important in some primaries and in the general election that she cannot afford to cede it to Mr. Obama just because he is black.

In a surprisingly lucid column, New York Times columnist Frank Rich nicely sums up the inside-out, upside-down, backasswards reality that has completely debunked conventional wisdom: “Election year isn’t even here yet, and already most of the first drafts penned by the political press have proved instantly disposable, from Fred Thompson’s irresistible Reaganesque star power to the Family Research Council’s ability to abort the rise of Rudy Giuliani. The biggest Beltway myth so far – that the Clinton campaign is ‘textbook perfect’ and ‘tightly disciplined’ – was surely buried for good by the undisciplined former president’s seemingly panic-driven blunder last week [Bill Clinton telling an IA audience that he had opposed the Iraq War ‘from the beginning’].”

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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