Businessman Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are in a statistical tie for the most support among Republicans in Iowa, where the presidential nomination contests start Jan. 3, a poll shows.
The Iowa Poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register newspaper, shows Cain with the support of 23 percent of likely caucus participants and Romney backed by 22 percent.
The results of that prestigious poll came on the same day Cain kicked off a day of appearances in Alabama on Saturday with a win at the West Alabama Straw Poll. Cain took 50.7 percent of 347 total votes cast in that poll, and Ron Paul came in second with 45 percent of the vote.
Other candidates who received votes in the Alabama poll were Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry with five, Mitt Romney at three, and Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum at one each. Michele Bachman and Jon Huntsman also were on the ballot, but did receive any votes.
Back in Iowa, Texas Gov. Perry has considerable work to do in Iowa, the poll shows, if he wants to regain his standing in the race. Perry has support from 7 percent of likely caucus-goers in the poll, trailing Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 12 percent. Besides Cain and Romney, Paul was the only other Republican candidate to exceed 10 percent.
“The people at the top are not the people who have been spending a lot of time in the state,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll and also administers the Bloomberg National Poll. “You don’t see the importance of a ground game play out until closer to the time of the caucuses.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota recorded 8 percent support in the poll, virtually tied with 7 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, stood at 5 percent. Former Utah Governor John Huntsman Jr., who is not actively competing in Iowa, found support among 1 percent.
The poll was conducted Oct. 23-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Perry, 61, led national polls in the Republican race just five weeks ago. Since then, his standing in surveys has dropped by as much as 20 percentage points, after debate performances he acknowledged were mediocre and as Cain gained ground.
If Perry is to regain momentum, his surge most likely will have to start in Iowa, where the lead-off caucuses begin the 2012 presidential nominating process.
Perry is scheduled to spend at least two days in Iowa during the next week. He has also started running television ads in the state.
Romney, 64, is taking a below-the-radar approach to Iowa and is seeking to manage expectations for himself in the state.
In his 2008 presidential bid, after an all-out effort to win the caucuses, he finished second behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Social conservatives who dominate the Republican caucuses balked at Romney’s past support of abortion rights and a Massachusetts healthcare law he signed, and his caucus loss helped derail his candidacy.
This election season, those conservatives have yet to rally around a contender, creating the prospect that they could divide their support among all the other candidates and create an opening for Romney.
For all his gains in the polls, Cain, 65, has scant organization in Iowa — traditionally a prerequisite for a strong caucus showing. He made his first visit to the state in more than two months a week ago.