(CNSNews.com) - It is considered the bellwether of presidential elections and the mandatory first step for any candidate hoping to obtain his or her party's nomination for leader of the free world. And this year, the Iowa caucus is yielding some unlikely and potentially earth-shattering results.
A KCCI-TV poll of likely Iowa caucus goers shows major shakeups on both sides. Among the Democrats, former Sen. John Edwards took the lead with 27 percent of the vote, followed by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton with 22 percent and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama with 16 percent.
Both Clinton and Obama were down six percent from the last KCCI poll, taken in May.
But the biggest surprise was found on the Republican side, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney jumped nine points to 25 percent. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who has yet to formally enter the race, came in second with 14 percent, one point ahead of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The Research 2000 poll was conducted among 600 likely Iowa voters and declared a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
Good news also came for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who climbed from seven percent in May to 11 percent, the biggest jump in the Democratic field. Richardson is currently polling fourth among Democrats.
The biggest drop saw Arizona Sen. John McCain tumble from 18 percent in May to 10 percent. The former frontrunner is now placed fourth among Republicans in Iowa.
The poll is a hopeful indicator for Romney's campaign, in which Iowa has played a major role. He blitzed through the state during July, establishing a sizable campaign operation and stumping at numerous political events.
Edwards is also no stranger to Iowa. After placing second in the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus, he has visited the state regularly to keep his foot in the door. Edwards' populist and resoundingly anti-war message also seems to play well with the state's liberal caucus goers.
The Iowa standings are in striking contrast to national polls, which put Romney and Edwards in third place in their respective primaries.
A July 30 Rasmussen poll gives Romney the support of just 12 percent of Republicans, trailing behind both Thompson and Giuliani, who are tied at 25 percent. Edwards in that poll stands at 14 percent of Democrats, way behind Clinton (41 percent) and Obama (24 percent).
The results of the Iowa caucus are likely to have tremendous impact on the upcoming primary races, according to one political strategist.
"The history has been, particularly in the Republican Party, that whoever wins two out of the three - Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina - is the nominee," Craig Shirley, president and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, told Cybercast News Service.
"And Romney's people have made themselves students of that history, which is why he's invested so many resources in Iowa and New Hampshire."
It's a strategy that seems to be working, according to Shirley. A recent CNN poll of New Hampshire voters found that Romney led the Republican pack with 34 percent of the total.
Shirley attributed Romney's success to the number of attacks he has sustained, saying they had thickened his skin and made him more resilient than anyone had initially expected.
"You're at your best when you're being challenged, and Romney's shown he can take a punch," he said.
Shirley was less confident about Edwards, saying he was spending too much money in Iowa and not concentrating enough on other key states.
"John Edwards has basically moved into Iowa," Shirley said. "But he runs the risk of becoming a one-trick pony, like [former Rep.] Dick Gephardt [in 1992] when he won Iowa but didn't build on his momentum."
According to the CNN poll, Edwards is polling at nine percent in New Hampshire, behind Clinton, Obama, and Richardson.
"You can't just take the approach that you have one swing at the plate. You have another at-bat, and you have to hit again," Shirley added.
And riding momentum out of Iowa to "hit" during the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries is the key for Iowa caucus winners, according to Shirley.
"[The winners] are going to come out of Iowa with the attention of the world for a nanosecond," he said. "And they'd better, in that nanosecond, be able to exploit it and answer ... what they are and what it is they stand for."
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