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Dominance Versus Confusion

Hillary Rodham Clinton's dominance of the Democratic presidential contest and the confusion in the fight for the GOP nomination are both confirmed by a new set of polls, conducted in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina for the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News. Taken September 6-10, the polls surveyed 3,713 people.

In the Iowa Democratic contest, Sen. Clinton of New York is pulling 28 percent among voters who are either Democrats or independents likely to vote in the Democratic caucuses. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who started out leading in the state, gets 23 percent. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is running third, with 19 percent, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson follows.

Clinton's 5-point edge over Edwards in this poll is a bit larger than the 3-point advantage she has in the Pollster.com trend estimate (based on regression analysis, a sort of moving average on steroids) of recent polling in Iowa. The gap between Edwards and Obama is 4 points in the poll and 3 in the Pollster.com trend estimate. Both the new poll and the Pollster.com figures put Richardson in fourth place, 8 points behind Obama in the poll, 9 points behind in the trend estimate.

Meanwhile among Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a 12-point lead in Iowa over former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who are tied for second.

The Pollster.com trend estimate of the GOP race in Iowa is fairly similar, with Romney leading the pack with 31 percent, Giuliani and Thompson running neck and neck with 13 and 12 percent, respectively, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 9 percent, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 5 percent.

The Times/Bloomberg polling indicates that Romney has a 5-point lead in New Hampshire over second-place Giuliani and that Thompson is leading the GOP pack in South Carolina, with a 3-point edge over Giuliani.

On the Democratic side, Clinton pulls 35 percent of the New Hampshire vote in the Times/Bloomberg poll, which shows Edwards and Obama tied at 16 percent and Richardson fourth at 8 percent. Although Pollster.com's trend estimate also pegs Clinton at 35 percent, it has Obama clearly in second place, 16 points back at 19 percent, then Edwards and Richardson running third and fourth with 12 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

In South Carolina, Clinton garners a whopping 45 percent, and Obama comes in second with 27 percent. Edwards pulls in a very distant third with just 7 percent, and all others are at 3 percent or less. The Pollster.com trend estimate puts Clinton lower, at 38 percent; Obama 12 points behind at 26 percent; and Edwards third at 10 percent.

The GOP contest in New Hampshire is much closer. There Romney is pulling 28 percent, as he is in Iowa, but Giuliani is only 5 points behind with 23 percent; McCain and Thompson are in third and fourth place, respectively, with 12 percent and 11 percent. The Pollster.com trend estimate in the state shows a wider lead for Romney, pegging his support at 31 percent, with Giuliani at 21 percent, then Thompson at 12 percent, and McCain at 10 percent.

In South Carolina, both the Times/Bloomberg poll and the Pollster.com trend estimate show a very close fight for first place. The poll puts Thompson in first with 26 percent, Giuliani in second with 23 percent, McCain in third with 15 percent, and Romney in fourth with 9 percent, followed by Huckabee with 6 percent. The trend estimate has Thompson first with 24 percent, then Giuliani with 23 percent, McCain third but plummeting -- to 13 percent -- followed by Romney at 9 percent, and Huckabee at 7 percent.

Clearly, Romney's strategy is to win Iowa and New Hampshire, then hope that momentum carries him through later contests. Giuliani's plan seems to be to do respectably well in Iowa, then go for a win in South Carolina and maybe New Hampshire, and hope the victory or victories push him forward. For Thompson, the strategy seems to be to make a respectable showing in Iowa, tough it out in New Hampshire, then win in South Carolina.

On the Democratic side, the real contest is to see whether anyone can stop Clinton in Iowa. If she can't be stopped there, she probably won't be stopped at all.

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