Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are locked in a tight Democratic presidential nominating contest in Iowa, the latest survey in the farm state showed Wednesday.
Quinnipiac University said Sanders, who calls himself an independent socialist Democrat, is winning the support of 49 percent of Democrats likely to participate in next Monday's party caucuses in Iowa, compared to 45 percent for Clinton, the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.
The Iowa voting is the first balloting in the months-long process to pick Democratic and Republican presidential nominees ahead of next November's national election to select a successor to President Barack Obama when he leaves office in a year.
As secretary of state, Clinton was a key member of Obama's first-term Cabinet and has met periodically with the president since leaving office as Obama looks to help a Democratic candidate succeed him.
Obama has had a much more distant relationship with Sanders, but met with him at the White House Wednesday to discuss foreign policy, the economy and the current campaign.
As he left the 45-minute meeting, Sanders said Obama has been "even-handed" in publicly staying neutral in the long drawn out campaign, even though U.S. political analysts have long assumed the president favors Clinton's nomination as the Democratic candidate.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama believes Sanders's unexpectedly close race against Clinton is good for Democrats.
"That ability to engage Democrats and excite them and inspire them will be critical to the success of Democrats up and down the ballot, whether Senator Sanders is the nominee or not," Earnest said.
Quinnipiac's Iowa survey, conducted in recent days, showed men, very liberal and younger voters supporting Sanders, who has centered his campaign attacks on Wall Street and corporate interests in the United States that he says have led to a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the rest of Americans.
The poll showed voters 45 and older, along with women, favoring Clinton, who could become the first female U.S. president
Quinnipiac polling official Peter Brown said the Iowa trend could be reminiscent of 2008, when Clinton lost the vote in the central U.S. state to Obama, who went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.
"Perhaps more than other contests, the Iowa caucuses are all about turnout," Brown said. "If those young, very liberal Democratic caucus participants show up Monday and are organized, it will be a good night for Senator Sanders. And if Sanders does win Iowa, that could keep a long-shot nomination scenario alive."
National surveys of Democrats still show Clinton ahead, but with a dwindling margin over Sanders, down to 12 percent in one poll released this week.