And the Democratic Front-runner Is... John Edwards?

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GERRY BROOME / AP

U.S. Sen. John Edwards leaves Town Hall in Carrboro, N.C., after placing his early vote on Nov. 1, 2006.

Only a seriously diseased political junkie — one without a life, one who hates to go holiday shopping, one like me — would give a local Presidential poll more than a nanosecond's attention this early in the political process. But... hey, it's Iowa and the results are kind of interesting. The Des Moines Register is reporting these numbers in a poll of Iowa Democrats conducted in October by Harstad Research for a group called Environmental Defense:
  • John Edwards 36%
  • Hillary Clinton 16%
  • Barack Obama 13%
  • Tom Vilsack 11%

Among county Democratic Party leaders, the numbers are even more startling:

  • Edwards 40%
  • Vilsack 15%
  • Obama 11%
  • Clinton 8%

Some seat-of-the-pants analysis, with help from my pal David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, the David Broder of the cornfields:

Edwards: He has been working the state very hard, and Iowans really, really like him. They liked him but thought he was too young in 2004, when he finished second to John Kerry in the Iowa caucuses. They liked him last June, when a Register poll had him beating Clinton 30% to 26%. They liked him a few weeks ago when, according to Yepsen, more than 800 Iowans showed up for a John Edwards book signing. "He's just a great fit for this state," says Yepsen. "He's low-key, down-to-earth, a nice guy."

Hillary: Uh-oh? Well, it does indicate that she's mortal — i.e., not a lock, in what we gasbags like to call the All-Important First Test of the Primary Season. And that 8% among county leaders — i.e., the people who really take this stuff seriously and drag people out to the precinct caucuses — sure seems dire. It may just be that Clinton hasn't been out to Iowa recently, hasn't yet given the solipsistic cornheads the full-frontal embrace they demand of contenders. Or it may be something a bit more chronic: "You hear a lot of 'I like Hillary, but...' talk out here," Yepsen says.

Obama: A very impressive result. Remember, this poll was taken in October. The Barack tsunami was barely a ripple back then. He'd impressed a big crowd at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, but that was only one crowd. Wonder what his number would be now.

Vilsack: Local boy deemed too local, perhaps? "Too many people don't see him in that Presidential frame," Yepsen says. "And the lack of a real national security credential makes it tougher for governors as candidates these days." But Vilsack has been a fine governor of Iowa, and is a fine, thoughtful man — a classic turtle, who may prove to be a comfortable resting place for caucus-goers who ultimately deem the out-of-town talent too slick or not Iowa enough.

All this can, and will, change as the candidates come out, wander around, eat corn dogs and are given the quadrennial intellectual frisk by Iowa voters, who have delivered comeuppance to such candidates as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Then again, all those guys won.