Poll: Clinton tops Rubio, Paul in possible Iowa showdown

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“The major difference between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden is that she runs much better among independent voters, although Sen. Rand Paul runs better among that key group than either Democrat,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

"In general Sen. Paul appears to be the better GOP candidate at this point in Iowa. Part of the reason may be the publicity from his recent high-profile visit to the state, but more likely is that he begins with a solid base of support – the folks who voted for his father in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses.”

Iowa is a crucial battleground for presidential candidates, both as an early voting primary state that can decide the fate of a nascent campaign and a crucial battleground that can swing a general election.

The poll also found that Iowa voters aren't particularly familiar with the candidates who will seek to succeed Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in next year's election. Harkin announced earlier this year his intention to retire.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), the likely Democratic nominee, is the best known in the field, viewed favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 14 percent. By contrast, the percentage of voters reporting that they don't recognize Republican hopefuls, including Matt Whitaker, Joni Ernst, Matt Schultz, David Young and A.J. Spiker, ranges from 81 to 94 percent

“Iowans can look forward to a lot of television ads as all these candidates try to introduce themselves to the folks who have no idea who they are,” said Brown. “Braley is clearly better known than the Republicans, but he too is an unknown to a majority of Iowa voters.”