MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And now to Iowa, where they have set a date. Democrats announced last night that they will join Republicans to caucus for their presidential choices on January 3rd. They've moved the date up from January 14th in response to other states moving their primaries earlier, as they try to strengthen their role in the nominating process. But many of the candidates are still banking on Iowa and hoping that a win there will lead to the nomination.
David Redlawsk Is a political scientist at the University of Iowa with a Hawkeye poll. He's been polling likely caucus goers. Redlawsk says for the Democrat candidates in Iowa, it's still a three-way race among the top contenders Hillary Clinton, John Edwards in Barack Obama. But he says Obama is picking up steam.
Professor DAVID REDLAWSK (Political Scientist, University of Iowa): He's jumped up above 26 percent in this poll. And there's a real sense in that that there's some momentum there. Clinton is - she actually went down a little in August. She's back up. She's kind of where she was all along - not higher, not lower. And Edwards have seen a fairly steady decline over the year.
BLOCK: But when you look at likely caucus goers, you're saying that they're -Barack Obama could have a problem. Why is that?
Prof. REDLAWSK: Well, he could. One of the interesting challenges with polling in the caucuses is simply figuring out who's actually going to get out. Well, it turns out that among the Obama supporters are a lot of relatively young people who do not have a history of caucusing at all, as well as other people who support Obama but say they're slightly less likely to caucus than Edwards or Clinton supporters.
BLOCK: The most important issues that Democrats told you about in the poll, their voting issues, Iraq was at the top of the list by a wide margin than health care, than the economy. Who stands to gain the most, do you think, if those issues do decide votes?
Prof. REDLAWSK: Well, what's interesting is you would think if Iraq was at the top of the list, which it is, that either Obama or Edwards would actually do better. But what we find is that among the people who say Iraq's most important, Hillary Clinton is doing just fine.
BLOCK: Let's turn to the Republican side now. And the headline seems to be a big lead for Mitt Romney but increasing support for Mike Huckabee. What's happening there?
Prof. REDLAWSK: Yeah, it's really interesting. We've not seen much register for Mike Huckabee in the poll previously. And all of a sudden, he's gone from 1 percent to basically a tie for second at around 12 percent. This seems to be mostly driven by Christian conservatives, by those who call themselves born again or evangelicals, where he's supported by 22 percent versus Romney's 29 percent.
BLOCK: Huckabee tying for second with Fred Thompson?
Prof. REDLAWSK: Well, with actually Thompson and Giuliani. It's really a three-way tie for second place.
BLOCK: Rudy Giuliani, who is leading in the national polls, is not by a long shot leading in Iowa, which is especially interesting because if you look at your poll, most of the Republicans polled say their most important issue is, by far, terrorism, and that's been the lynchpin of Giuliani's campaign. Why is that not translating into support?
Prof. REDLAWSK: I think it's a couple of things with Giuliani in Iowa. One is he really hasn't put a lot of effort into Iowa until very recently. But I think the other thing is simply that his other issues, particularly his social positions, don't track well with the majority of Republican Iowa caucus goers.
BLOCK: Do you think that, given what's happened with the primary calendar this year and so many states piling on to that Tsunami Tuesday, Super-Duper Tuesday, that maybe Iowa and New Hampshire will not be as definitive as they have been in the past?
Prof. REDLAWSK: This is tough. As a political scientist, I look at it and I say, gosh, I just don't know and I don't know what's going to happen. The candidates are treating Iowa as if it were important. The media is treating Iowa as if it were important. I think you get into an environment where whatever happens in Iowa will be magnified five days later in New Hampshire and will carry in to those February 5th primaries. So I do think Iowa and New Hampshire continue to be really important.
BLOCK: David Redlawsk, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.
Prof. REDLAWSK: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: David Redlawsk is a University of Iowa political scientist and co-director of the Hawkeye Poll.
NPR will host and broadcast Republican and Democratic candidate debates in Iowa set for the first week in December.