Candidates Gear Up For Iowa Caucus

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – With the democratic and GOP races too close to call in Iowa, candidates were spending their last full campaign day Wednesday before the nation’s first caucus, urging voters for their support.

One recent poll said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney are leading. Another says Senator Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are ahead.

The latter poll was released a couple days ago by the Des Moines Register and showed Obama leading among Democrats, favored by 32 percent of those surveyed, compared to 25 percent for Hillary Clinton and 24 for John Edwards.

Among Republicans, the poll put Huckabee ahead of closest rival Mitt Romney, 32 percent to 26 percent.

However, a CNN poll released Monday had Clinton with an ever-so-slight lead over Obama – 33 percent to 31 percent, and showed Romney up on Huckabee 31 percent to 28 percent.

Fred Thompson and John McCain are well behind in polls, coming in third and fourth in the GOP field, while the Democratic candidates behind the big three all register support in the single digits.

Candidates in Thursday night’s caucuses must reach a level of support in each of the state’s 1,781 precincts – typically 15 percent of those who attend. Candidates who fail to meet that aren’t considered viable, and their supporters can move to another candidate or go home.

Here’s a brief look at how the top candidates are spending their final hours before Thursday’s caucus vote in Iowa.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is telling Iowa voters to “take the first step” toward changing the direction of the country by voting for her at Thursday’s caucuses.

Clinton has prepared a two-minute appeal that will be broadcast during early evening news programs Wednesday in every media market in the state. In her message, The New York senator says the vote “all comes down to this: Who is ready to be president and ready to start solving the challenges we face on Day One.”

Democrat John Edwards is on a marathon 36-hour campaign trying to win over Iowa voters, and dismissing recent polls that show him in third place. He calls it a marathon for the middle class and is something of a last-ditch effort to get out his populist message.

Edwards opened the campaign with a rally before about 500 people jammed into a ballroom at the student union at Iowa State University. The theme of his overnight drive is energizing backers and delivering them to precinct caucuses. He had planned a rally in Atlantic at midnight and at least two other stops by 5:15 a.m., local time.

Later Wednesday, he planned to appear at a free concert by John Mellencamp.

His campaign has also released a TV spot that features a worker who lost his job when a Maytag factory in Newton closed. He further bought a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register featuring the worker’s testimonial.

Edwards makes the case that he is the most likely candidate to fight to get the worker’s job back.

Barack Obama is seen as the most honest and likeable candidate in a recent poll and was continuing to build on that image during campaign stops in the state over the final hours before Thursday’s caucus.

“I decided to run because I was positive the American people were hungry for … a politics that delivered common sense instead of PR and spin,” CNN quoted Obama as telling voters during a campaign stop in Des Moines. The Illinois senator was joined on stage by his wife, Michelle, and his two daughters.

Obama is airing television ads Wednesday night with a longer-than-usual two-minute ad during the evening news broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Obama gained support from back-of-the-pack candidate Dennis Kucinich, who asked his supporters to make Obama their second choice. Obama thanked Kucinich for the recommendation, saying they both believe deeply “in the need for fundamental change.”

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been answering questions about a recent ad. He’s been insisting that he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one with the negative ad about rival Mitt Romney that he previewed this week.

Huckabee showed the ad to reporters on Monday and told them he had a last-minute change of heart and would not air it. Yet he played the ad anyway, prompting laughter from the media.

The former Arkansas governor says he wasn’t trying to be tricky. He says if that were the case, he would have let the ad run for a few days before pulling it.

But he also says, “probably if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have shown it.”

Huckabee flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in the late night talk show’s first showing since a writer’s strike shut down production on television and movie sets across the country.

Romney has pulled into a statistical dead heat with Huckabee after falling behind significantly last week. He’s narrowed the gap largely with negative ads about Huckabee’s record of being more forgiving toward illegal immigrants, granting clemency to criminals and raising taxes.

Romney has been making the rounds at house parties over the past couple of days, trying to mobilize his base and dismissing the Des Moines Register poll that shows Huckabee in the lead.

Romney is also in dead heat in New Hampshire, where caucus-goers will cast their ballot next week. However, his stiffest competition is not from Mike Huckabee, who’s in a distant fourth place in the state, but with John McCain, who has climbed back from a large deficit a few months ago.