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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

There's a new poll out today from the University of Iowa, and barely two months before the caucuses there the Hawkeye Poll shows Senator Hillary Clinton the leading Democratic candidate at 29 percent; Senator Barack Obama is back a little bit at 27; and John Edwards has slipped somewhat, he's down at 20 percent. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney holds a huge lead.

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us again, a regular Monday guest here on DAY TO DAY. Ron, what do you suppose candidates like Bill Richardson and Joe Biden are now telling their staffs? Because they're still in single digits?

RON ELVING: They had to keep telling them the same thing they've been telling them all year, Alex. They've got to say there are reasons to be in this and believe that you're going to make a breakthrough in Iowa. Iowans make up their minds very late after Christmas, sometimes after New Year's, sometimes even at the caucus itself, which is going to be on January 3rd now in both parties. So they are telling them there's still a chance, we can get our message across in these final weeks when people really begin to focus on the race. And in private conversations with their staff, perhaps they're saying there are other reasons to run for president besides becoming president.

CHADWICK: Huh. Well, Senator Barack Obama is also hoping for late-breaking developments. In the last days of last week, he told the New York Times and other publications as well that he is going to begin drawing sharper lines between himself and Senator Clinton. There's a debate tomorrow night among Democrats in Philadelphia. What do you expect Senator Obama to do?

ELVING: I expect him to do something very much like what he has done all year. He is going to look very seriously into the camera, he is going to make a gesture towards Hillary Clinton, and he is going to say something which, if you really wanted to, you could read it as some kind of a shot at Hillary, but it won't have anything like the kind of bite or impact it would have to have if he really wants to rumble. And I don't think he does. I don't think any of these Democratic candidates really wants to come out swinging against Hillary Clinton.

CHADWICK: And why is that?

ELVING: I think partly because they don't want to be the person who is seen in an unattractive light as the rip and slash candidate. None of these Democrats differs with her enough on policy to compel them to do that. None of them has enough of a confrontational personality to want to do that, with the possible exception of Mike Gravel, who's now been dropped from the debate for tomorrow night. And then none of them wants to completely close the door on some further relationship with the Clinton campaign, possibly as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of whatever.

CHADWICK: Well, what do you think is her greatest vulnerability at this point? She does seem to be solidifying her lead.

ELVING: Her greatest vulnerability is her electability question. This is what did in Howard Dean, by the way, four years ago. He was leading in the polls, but then people started worrying about whether or not he would be electable. And in Iowa and New Hampshire he got nasty surprises from the voters who had decided maybe somebody else would be more of a winner against the Republican nominee. And I think the Republicans are showing enough glee and eagerness to take on Hillary that it gives the Democrats some pause.

CHADWICK: Back to that Iowa poll, can you explain former Governor Mitt Romney's lead there in Iowa? Thirty-six percent. Now, the next closest candidate is Rudy Giuliani with 13 percent. That seems like just a phenomenal lead to me.

ELVING: It also seems a bit of an outlier. It would be interesting to see other polls and whether or not they corroborate this. But Mitt Romney, no question, has been the best organized in Iowa; he's spent the most time there, and he's really bet the farm largely on these first two primaries: Iowa and New Hampshire. So he figures if he can win in Iowa, carry that through his momentum in New Hampshire, he can supplant Rudy Giuliani as the national frontrunner and survive into the February 5th round of primaries that Rudy Giuliani is counting on to boost his candidacy.

CHADWICK: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thank you again.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

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