By Ed Tibbetts/Quad-City Times
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney leads the Republican pack in Iowa, according to a new poll released Tuesday. But his lead among likely voters is a statistically insignificant one over former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has spent little time in the state, but he was the preference of 23 percent of likely Republican voters in Iowa, according to the NBC News/Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll.
This is the second poll in a week that shows Romney leading in the Hawkeye state. Two weeks ago, an American Research Group survey said he’s leading here.
Cain’s second-place finish, which fell within the margin of error, puts him ahead of others who have made greater waves in the state earlier in the year. The poll said 20 percent of the respondents favored Cain, with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, next at 11 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, at 10 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percent.
Sixteen percent said they’re undecided.
The poll of 371 likely Republican voters appears to show the unsettled nature of the presidential campaign in Iowa, just a couple of months before Republicans will go the caucuses.
The survey was conducted Oct. 3-5, the same time that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said they wouldn’t join the 2012 campaign.
Their decisions not to run has focused attention on the battle for socially conservative and tea party voters.
“Herman Cain has become over the last couple weeks the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” said Brian Dumas, a political consultant from Davenport.
He added this is a good time for Cain to capitalize on what he called a vacuum. But he said he’ll have to invest more time in Iowa.
“It is going to take some boots on the ground. To date, haven’t seen much of that,” he said.
The NBC/Marist poll also laid out the political difficulties President Barack Obama faces in Iowa, the state that launched him to his 2008 victory.
Forty-two percent of 2,836 registered voters in Iowa approve of his job performance, about the same as his national job approval rating.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of the respondents said the country is headed in the wrong direction, while 21 percent said it’s going in the right direction.
In hypothetical matchups, Obama beat Romney 43 percent to 40 percent among registered voters. He scored a six-point edge over Perry, 46-37. In both matchups, one in six respondents were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.8 percent.
The poll did not ask about an Obama-Cain matchup.
The general electorate also expressed an opinion on the tea party movement, with 21 percent saying they were supporters and 69 percent saying they were not, the poll said.
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