Four top Republicans in a dead heat in Iowa

A new poll by Bloomberg News shows the top four Republican presidential candidates in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, which holds the country’s first caucuses on Jan. 3.

Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich are all within four points of each other – with Cain at 20 percent, Paul at 19 percent, Romney at 18 percent, and Gingrich at 17 percent among likely caucus-goers. The spread is within the poll’s margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

However, most voters are not firm in their commitments – only 29 percent say their minds are made up.

The poll, which was taken Nov. 10-12, also illustrates the volatile nature of the race so far. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has remained the national front-runner for much of the race, but has not focused on Iowa and has not succeeded in coalescing the Republican Party around him. Several other candidates have tried to become an alternative to Romney, but have faltered.

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Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa in August, but is now at 5 percent in the Bloomberg poll. Texas Governor Rick Perry vaulted to the top of the polls in Iowa after entering the race in August, and remained at the head of the pack through September. After a series of poor debate performances, he is now at 7 percent in the Bloomberg poll.

Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, also saw a rapid rise in the polls, but is losing steam after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him. Gingrich, the former House speaker whose campaign faltered this summer, appears to be picking up his support. Paul, the Texas representative, has been steadily growing his base, as he tries to reach beyond the cadre of passionate libertarian-leaning Republicans who supported him in 2008.

The Bloomberg poll also measures the weaknesses of several candidates, which could hurt some of the top-polling candidates. Voters were asked which of several factors would make them rule out a candidate. The largest disqualifying factor was if a candidate favored a mandate to buy health insurance – as Romney did as Massachusetts governor, though he opposes a mandate nationally. A full 58 percent of respondents said they would not vote for a candidate who favored a mandate. Another 33 percent would rule out a candidate who changed his position on abortion – which Romney has.

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Otherwise, 48 percent would rule out a candidate who has been married three times and had extramarital affairs, which Gingrich has; 42 percent would rule out a candidate who supported in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants, as Perry has; and 40 percent would rule out a candidate who worked for President Obama’s administration, as Huntsman has. Less damaging were the allegations of sexual harassment against Cain – just 30 percent considered that a disqualifying factor.

See the full poll results here.

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