Gephardt, Dukakis, Simon Tie for Lead in Poll of Iowa Democrats

Times Staff Writer

The Democratic presidential race in Iowa remains knotted in a virtual three-way tie just two weeks before the Feb. 8 caucuses, according to a new poll released Sunday, increasing the likelihood that no clear winner will emerge from the first major electoral battle of 1988.

The Des Moines Register's latest Iowa Poll of voters likely to attend the state's Democratic caucuses found that Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon are in a virtual tie for first place in the Democratic race.

Gephardt, who has staged a remarkable comeback in several major polls in the last week or so, was the first choice of 19% of the voters. He was slightly ahead of Dukakis, who was the choice of 18% of likely caucus-goers, while Simon was right behind him with 17%. The Register poll had a margin of error of 4.9%, indicating that the three front-runners were in a statistical tie.

While Gephardt, Dukakis and Simon all still have an opportunity to move away from their rivals in Iowa, it may be difficult for any of the three to declare a clear-cut victory if the outcome on Feb. 8 is as close as the major polls now suggest. All could then continue on to New Hampshire and the South as serious contenders.

Gephardt Enjoys Momentum

Still, it does seem that Gephardt is the candidate with the momentum on his side right now. After languishing near the bottom of all the Iowa polls just one month ago, he has moved to the front of the pack on the strength of a media blitz in the state that emphasizes his aggressive trade and agriculture policies.

Gary Hart, meanwhile, who had surged into first place in Iowa polls taken just after his widely publicized re-entry into the Democratic race in December, slipped badly in the Register's latest survey, dropping to fourth with just 13%.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has maintained a solid core of support among Democratic farm activists and other groups, held 11%, roughly the same showing he has made in Iowa polls for several months.

Concentrates on South

Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt followed with 10%, indicating that the wave of favorable press reviews his candidacy and his ideas have received in recent weeks has not yet translated into much support among the voters. Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., who has pulled his campaign out of Iowa to concentrate on the South, received less than 1% in the poll.

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