DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Mike Huckabee has surged into a virtual tie with front-runner Rudy Giuliani in the national 2008 Republican presidential race two weeks before the first contest, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas whose campaign has caught fire in recent weeks, wiped out an 18-point deficit in one month to pull within one point of Giuliani, 23 percent to 22 percent.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s national advantage over second-place rival Barack Obama shrunk slightly to eight percentage points as the races for the White House tightened in both parties. Clinton had an 11-point edge last month.
The shifting numbers have changed the shape of a dynamic presidential race two weeks before Iowa on January 3 kicks off the state-by-state process of choosing candidates in each party for the November 2008 election.
“Huckabee is on a roll, he has gotten an enormous amount of publicity and he is doing very well with conservatives, who at least for now appear to have found a candidate,” pollster John Zogby said.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has led most national polls since early in the year, saw his support drop from 29 percent to 23 percent in the survey. His one-point lead over Huckabee was well within the poll’s 4.8 percentage point margin of error.
Huckabee moved ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in third place at 16 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 13 percent, Arizona Sen. John McCain at 12 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 4 percent.
The groundswell for Huckabee, a Baptist minister with close ties to religious conservatives, has been fueled in part by his growing support among that key party constituency.
Among likely Republican voters who say they are “very conservative,” Huckabee drew the support of 43 percent, with Thompson second at 20 percent and Romney third at 16 percent.
Those voters who describe themselves as “born again” gave Huckabee the lead at 33 percent, with McCain in second at 17 percent and Romney with 14 percent.
The number of undecided likely Republican voters dropped from 21 percent last month to 9 percent. The race remains fluid enough to be shaped dramatically by the results in Iowa on January 3 and New Hampshire, where voters go to the polls on January 8.
“Voters are starting to at least pay attention and identify with someone,” Zogby said. “But it doesn’t mean they have made up their minds for good.”
Among Democrats, Clinton held a 40 percent to 32 percent lead over Obama, an Illinois senator, down slightly from 38 percent to 27 percent last month.
Some other polls have shown the national lead for Clinton, a New York senator, shrinking even more dramatically -- and disappearing completely in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was well back in third place at 13 percent, with Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson tied for fourth at 3 percent. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut was at 1 percent.
“Obama is moving because he is building strength among young people and independents and growing his lead among black voters,” Zogby said.
Obama, who would be the first black president, led Clinton among likely black voters by 19 points, among independents by 16 points and among young voters age 18 to 24 by 34 points.
Clinton, who would be the first woman president, led Obama among likely women voters by 12 points and among older voters aged 55 to 69 by 16 points.
The percentage of Democratic voters who said they were undecided in the race was down to 4 percent from 14 percent last month.
The poll was taken last Wednesday to Friday. It surveyed 436 likely Democratic primary voters and 432 likely Republican primary voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points for both parties.
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
Editing by David Wiessler