- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

From combined dispatches

DES MOINES, Iowa — The last poll of Iowa Democrats before Thursday’s caucuses showed Sen. Barack Obama lengthening his lead over his two principal rivals for the party’s presidential nomination.

In the latest Iowa Poll, which the Des Moines Register posted on its site last night, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, was the choice of 32 percent of likely caucusgoers, compared with 25 percent who backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and 24 percent supporting former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Several previous surveys had shown Mr. Obama leading in Iowa, though always by a margin less than the poll’s margin of error, the Register reported. But this telephone poll of 800 likely Democratic caucusgoers, taken from Thursday to Sunday, had Mr. Obama ahead by twice its 3.5 percentage-point error margin.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson polled at 6 percent, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware at 4 percent, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut at 2 percent and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio at 1 percent. Six percent of respondents were unsure or uncommitted.

Still, the race remains volatile, with roughly one-third of Iowa Democrats saying they could be persuaded to change their mind before Thursday night. Other surveys have shown the Democratic race as a virtual three-way tie, so the candidates were leaving nothing to chance and reports of anonymous phone calls providing unflattering information about all three of the party’s major presidential hopefuls also spiced the race.

Some of the calls say Mr. Obama’s health plan leaves millions uninsured, while others say Mr. Edwards’ plans for a troop withdrawal from Iraq is dangerous or that Mrs. Clinton cannot defeat Republicans in the fall, according to recipients. In each case, the recipients say, a caller pretending to conduct a poll of candidate preferences begins by asking whom the caucusgoer intends to support.

“I responded Obama, and she went on to ask if I knew Obama’s health care plan left 15 million uninsured,” said Pam Jochum, an Iowa state representative from Dubuque.

Miss Jochum said the caller “went into an attack on John Edwards, stating to me that military experts said Mr. Edwards’ plan to withdraw troops within 10 months could destabilize” Iraq.

The use of anonymous phone calls to spread derogatory information about candidates is a frequent occurrence, particularly in the final days of a campaign. It is often difficult or even impossible to determine the group behind the effort, since they do not readily identify themselves.

Michael Hancock of Coralville said he had received an automated call in the past 24 hours asking whether he planned to attend a caucus. When he indicated he was, “The next question was whether I planned to watch the BCS-Orange Bowl,” a college football game scheduled to be played in Florida on caucus night.

Mr. Hancock said he hung up the phone, then said he concluded it was a “transparent attempt to depress turnout from some people.”

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