Barack Obama has pulled ahead in the race for Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses, while the party's national frontrunner Hillary Clinton has slipped to second in the leadoff nominating state, according to The Des Moines Register's new Iowa Poll.
Despite the movement, the race for 2008's opening nominating contest remains very competitive about a month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, just over half of likely caucusgoers who favor a candidate saying they could change their minds.
Obama, an Illinois senator, leads for the first time in the Register's poll as the choice of 28 percent of likely caucusgoers, up from 22 percent in October. Clinton, a New York senator, was the preferred candidate of 25 percent, down from 29 percent in the previous poll.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who led in the Register's May poll, held steady with 23 percent, in third place, but part of the three-way battle.
The lead change appears after weeks of increasing criticism of Clinton by Obama and Edwards about her position on U.S. policy toward Iran and questions of her candor.
Meanwhile, Clinton has recently begun accusing Obama of inexperience and criticizing his proposal to expand health insurance coverage.
The poll shows what has continued to be a wide gap between the top three candidates and the remainder of the field. The telephone survey of 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers was conducted Nov. 25 to 28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Iowa City Democrat Katharyn Browne said she abandoned her support for Clinton in the past month and now supports Obama in light of the Iran issue.
Obama spent weeks in October and November attacking Clinton's support for a measure that allowed President Bush to declare the Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, a move Obama said was a step toward war. Clinton said the measure enhanced U.S. negotiating strength with Iran.
"An Iran war terrifies me," said Browne, a 30-year-old University of Iowa student.
Browne said she feels Obama is a more inspirational candidate than Clinton, despite the intensifying crossfire between them.
"I just think that Obama is more of a positive candidate overall," she said. "Aside from the Clinton-Obama interaction lately, it's nice to hear a candidate with a positive outlook. I think our country needs that right now."
Browne, who supported Clinton early partly out of gender loyalty, represents a shift among some women caucusgoers from Clinton to Obama.
In the new poll, Obama leads with support from 31 percent of women likely attend the caucuses, compared to 26 percent for Clinton. In October, Clinton was the preferred candidate of 34 percent of women caucusgoers, compared to 21 percent for Obama.
Women represent roughly six in 10 Democratic caucusgoers, according to the new poll.
Obama also dominates among younger caucusgoers, with support from 48 percent from those younger than 35. Clinton was the choice of 19 percent in that group and Edwards of 17 percent.
The under-35 bloc represents 14 percent of Democratic caucusgoers, up from 9 percent in the October poll.
Obama has an advantage among first-time caucusgoers. He also leads among people who say they definitely will attend the caucuses.
Clinton is the top choice among caucusgoers 55 years old and older. The largest share of Democratic caucusgoers — exactly half — are in this age group.