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Obama Makes Gains in California, Clinton Still Ahead

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With less than seven weeks to go until the California Primary, Hillary Clinton still has a substantial lead in the pollsamong likely Democratic voters. However, her closest rival, Barack Obama, is starting to make this more of a contest than the front-runner might have anticipated, making this a murky race whose puzzle will be completed Feb. 5.

Momentum in California is with Barack Obama, who finished 2nd with 30 percent, his strongest showing to date, in nine SurveyUSA pre-primary tracking polls. Clinton led by 37 points two months ago. Today, she leads by 19 points. [SurveyUSA]

Obama's rise may be fueled by a number of factors, including his strong polling in Iowa and a number of gaffes the Clinton campaign has recently made.

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More info after the jump, plus a poll for you.

1. Obama's rise in California is partly due to his strong recent showing in Iowa. A new Washington Post-ABC News pollreleased Wednesday showed Obama with 33 percent support of likely Iowa caucus goers, while Clinton had 29 percent. puts Obama up just two percentage points ahead of Clinton.

2. Another factor in Obama's rise stems from public reaction to a few gaffes at the Clinton campaign. Last week, Clinton fired an aide, Bill Shaheen, for commenting on Obama's drug use he admitted to have dabbled in as a teenager.

Speaking to a Washington Post reporter, Shaheen warned Republicans would use Obama's drug history to cast him as unsuitable for the presidency. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, "one of the things they are certainly going to jump on is his drug use," Shaheen said. "It'll be 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them?' "

There is a perception among Iowan's that Clinton is "just ugly," leading the American Spectator to declare "Hillary Will Lose Iowa."

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This preceded a Dec. 12 Iowa debatein which Obama was asked how he would handle foreign policy issues.

"I wanna hear that," Hillary Clinton jumped in. Everyone laughed, then Obama got the better of it: "Hillary," he said, "I'm looking forward to you advising me, as well." []

She wasn't laughing so much after that.

Now it's your turn.

Hillary Clinton Flickr image via lauren victoria burke; Barack Obama Flickr image via The Electrician; Photo illustration by Jeremy Oberstein.