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An overlooked Iowa winner

January 3, 2008 |  9:15 pm

The Des Moines Register's last pre-caucus poll was, as always, eagerly awaited. But when it was posted late at night on New Year's Eve, those who didn't like its figures -- especially the Hillary Clinton and John Edwards campaigns -- quickly trashed it.

Although the precise final caucus results are not yet in, this much is clear: the newspaper's polling unit nailed it.

The survey showed Barack Obama up by seven percentage points in the Democratic presidential race, with Clinton and Edwards in a virtual dead heat behind him. That's how the actual caucus played out -- Obama with a solid win; Edwards and Clinton battling it out for second place (with the former first lady ultimately edged out for that spot).

The batch of polls preceding the Register's had mostly been favorable for Clinton. And none of those that followed gave Obama such a substantial lead.

The embarrassment among the last-minute polls was the survey by the American Research Group. Conducted Monday through Wednesday, it gave Clinton a nine-point lead.

In the Republican race, the Register found Mike Huckabee up by six points -- a result that came when a couple of other surveys conducted around the same time had shown Mitt Romney on the rise. Huckabee ended up scoring a slightly more impressive win (in this case, virtually all of the last-minute polls gave Huckabee roughly the same lead as the Register had).

Iowa's leading newspaper may not know how to orchestrate a vigorous candidate debate. But it lived up to its reputation for knowing how to predict a caucus outcome.

-- Don Frederick