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Huckabee Outdistances Romney 37% to 23%

Huckabee gains

Among Iowa Republicans, the poll found that Huckabee dominates Romney and the rest of the field not only among born-again Christians and regular churchgoers but also among women and the disaffected. He was supported by 46% of women surveyed, and 44% of voters who say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Huckabee argues that the Republican Party needs to acknowledge the pocketbook anxieties of middle-class voters.

The GOP contest in Iowa is essentially a two-man race: Huckabee's 37% and Romney's 23% outdistance McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, both with 11%; and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Calif., who all register in single digits.

The Republican pecking order is completely different in New Hampshire, where evangelical conservatives hold less sway. There, Huckabee barely registers, backed by only 9%, while Romney leads with 34%.

But McCain has made notable gains in recent months: He has campaigned heavily there and won influential newspaper endorsements in the state, which backed him against George W. Bush in 2000. McCain has jumped into second place with 21%, up from 12% in September.

He edged out Giuliani, whose support in New Hampshire dropped 9 percentage points, to 14%.

Like Clinton, McCain may benefit if voters' concern about international affairs increases with the turmoil in Pakistan. Even in Iowa, far more Republicans say he would be the best candidate to handle foreign affairs. And when Republicans were asked if McCain was well prepared for the presidency, 78% of New Hampshire Republicans said he was.

No other candidate, in either Iowa or New Hampshire, drew such a heavy vote of confidence. But that may not be enough to sway voters who are looking for a fresh face.

"When I hear McCain, I feel comfortable that he may do a better job with the war," said Ray Buffery, a retiree in Concord, N.H., who is nonetheless supporting Romney. McCain, he said, "has been in the Senate quite awhile. [Romney] is a younger person."

janet.hook@latimes.com

[http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-poll28dec28,0,5452139.story?page=2]

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