The latest Des Moines Register poll of Iowa Republican voters shows Herman Cain and Mitt Romney tied for the lead.
The poll of 400 likely Republican caucus attenders has Georgia businessman Cain at 23 percent and former Massachusetts Governor Romney at 22 percent. Cain and Romney are tied in the lead in most national polls as well. Neither candidate, however, has spent much time in Iowa so far.
Iowa will hold the first election in the nation on Jan. 3, so a strong showing in that state can impact elections in states that hold their caucus or primary later.
Fifteen percent of respondents said they were not sure who they would support and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who finished a close second in August's Iowa Straw Poll, had the support of 12 percent of respondents. All the other candidates were in single digits.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann topped the previous Des Moines Register poll in June at 22 percent and won the Iowa Straw Poll. But her support is now down to just eight percent.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, but his support is only at five percent.
Both Cain and Romney have emphasized their business experience in the campaign. The poll asked respondents, “which is more important to you in thinking about qualifications to be president – for the candidate to have experience in business or to have held elective office?”
Seventy-one percent said experience in business is more important than experience in elective office. Only 22 percent said elective office experience is more important.
There has been some debate among Romney advisers about whether or not he should try to compete in Iowa, according to New York magazine's John Heilemann. A win in Iowa could lead to a quick path to the nomination, but a loss in the state could be a deep setback if he was seen as trying to win but failed.
If Romney competes hard in Iowa, the expectation will be that he will win the race. Even a strong second-place showing would then be presented as a negative by much of the press.
A candidate’s decision to not spend resources in the state is based upon how the media covers elections. Most of those in the media prefer to present the results of an election in the form of a storyline, so how a candidate performs relative to expectations is more important than where they finish overall.
Romney has some experience with this situation. When Romney was running in the previous election, he competed hard in Iowa. He was leading in the October 2007 Des Moines Register poll, but ended up finishing second behind Mike Huckabee, who placed third in the October poll. Huckabee received much press attention for the victory, which helped his underfunded campaign continue. Huckabee ended up staying in the race longer than Romney.
The recent poll was conducted Oct. 23-26, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.