The race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination is intensifying, one-week before the official start of the nominating process in the midwest state of Iowa. A new public-opinion poll indicates the vote in the Iowa presidential caucuses will be close.
The new poll shows former Vermont Governor Howard Dean with a narrow lead over Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt in Iowa. The survey also shows Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards trailing in a battle for third place. The poll was conducted by Reuters, the MSNBC television news network and the Zogby polling organization.
Two of the nine Democratic contenders have decided not to campaign in Iowa. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and retired General Wesley Clark are focusing on later contests in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The other three Democrats running are Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and civil rights activist Al Sharpton.
The top finishers in Iowa will reap important political and public relations benefits as the primary season begins. The primaries and caucuses are used to select delegates to the National Democratic Convention in July. The convention delegates will select a nominee to face President Bush in the November election.
Senator John Kerry said he is encouraged by the recent poll in Iowa. "Look, I am moving here in Iowa," he said. "We have got energy. Iowans are extraordinarily independent-minded. I have absolute confidence. Confidence in my campaign, confidence in my candidacy, confidence that I am addressing the real concerns of the people of Iowa and of the country."
Senator Kerry, Senator Edwards, and Congressman Gephardt all say they are moving up in the polls in Iowa at the expense of frontrunner Howard Dean.
Mr. Dean is coming under increasing criticism from his Democratic rivals. The latest example was at a debate in Iowa on Sunday that focused on issues of concern to minority voters.
Al Sharpton criticized Howard Dean for not appointing more minorities to top positions when he was governor of Vermont.
The exchange prompted this response from former Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun, the only other African-American in the Democratic presidential field. "To the Reverend Sharpton. The fact of the matter is that you can always blow up a racial debate and make people mad at each other. But I think it is time for us to talk about what are you going to do to bring people together, because this country cannot afford a racial screaming match," she said.
The election process will intensify this week in advance of next Monday's Iowa vote, followed a week later (January 27) by the New Hampshire Primary.