DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat John Edwards are atop a poll of likely Iowa caucus voters because both presidential candidates have invested so much time organizing and visiting the state, activists in both parties said Monday.
Romney was backed by 30 percent, ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain with 18 percent and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 17 percent, according to the poll in the Des Moines Sunday Register.
Edwards was ahead with 29 percent of those surveyed, compared to 23 percent for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and 21 percent for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the poll showed.
Romney's strong showing is a reward for his focus on Iowa, said Iowa Republican Chairman Ray Hoffmann.
``He's been very active here, and he's got a good organization here,'' Hoffmann said. ``Every election cycle, you can see that people who spend a lot of time here, people who have a good organization, their polls look good.''
Veteran Democratic strategist Ron Parker had a similar impression of Edwards' early poll success. He noted that the strong backing for Edwards might be surprising to some who assumed the heavy attention being given to Clinton and Obama would vault them into the lead.
``I think there were folks out there who assumed the buzz was enough to create a front-runner,'' said Parker. ``I think you have to get back to the grassroots and this shows you can't win the Iowa caucuses on name ID and buzz alone.''
The Register's poll was conducted by Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., based on telephone interviews with 400 voters who said they likely would attend Democratic caucuses and 401 voters who said they likely would attend Republican caucuses. The poll claimed a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
Des Moines lawyer Steve Roberts, who sits on the Republican National Committee, said he wasn't surprised by Romney's lead.
``He's obviously put together a strong organization in the state and he's had a strong presence in the state,'' Roberts said. ``He's been here more than any of the other major candidates and I think that's had an effect.''
Democratic strategist Matt Paul said Romney's lead in the poll could be due to his decision to launch early television commercials in Iowa, boosting his name identification.
``It's very good news for political consultants,'' said Paul. ``It could have an impact on when others decide to go up.''
Although he supports Edwards, Des Moines lawyer Rob Tully said the poll was just an indication that the three top Democratic candidates would have to battle for a caucus victory.
``The real campaigning hasn't event begun yet, the house parties and the smaller events where people get a real feel for the candidates,'' said Tully. ``It's way early yet.''
Hoffman, the Iowa GOP chairman, cautioned against reading too much into the poll. Such early polling is subject to huge changes in the months leading to the state's precinct caucuses, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008.
A high-profile Republican straw poll planned Aug. 11 could alter those polls and drive some candidates from the race.
``In the last few months, you've seen the polls change,'' said Hoffmann. ``After the straw poll, things are going to change again.''
Romney made a splash with a $21 million fundraising haul in the first three months of the year, but has struggled to improve his standing beyond single digits in national popularity polls since then.
Over five months, the former Massachusetts governor has laid down roughly $4 million for TV ads, mainly focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire as he sought to introduce himself to potential voters.
In the ads, Romney casts himself as an outsider who will go to Washington to change it and fix the country's biggest problems.