Presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton's lead is shrinking among Democratic contenders for the White House after a series of miscues and stepped-up attacks by her rivals.
Her air of invincibility took a hit this week amid reports that her staffers had planted audience questions, combined with fresh criticism by Democrats who accused her of shifting with the political winds during a presidential debate two weeks ago.
Although Clinton still leads the pack of Democratic contenders, polls released on Monday suggested that her presidential campaign was losing steam.
Clinton had for months commanded a 30-point advantage over her closest competitor, Senator Barack Obama, but Monday saw that lead slip to 19 percent, the CNN/Opinion Research Corp found. The poll, surveying 467 Democrats or independent voters likely to pick a Democrat for the White House, showed 44 percent would choose Clinton while 25 percent would vote for Obama.
The figures were in stark contrast to the same poll a month earlier which showed Clinton garnering 51 percent of likely voters and holding a 30-point lead over Obama.
Two other opinion polls in New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first presidential primary contest, showed similar results.
The CNN poll was taken just days after Clinton was attacked by her rivals in a debate on Oct. 31 as the Democratic race hit new levels of intensity.
During that debate, Obama branded her one of "co-authors" of the Iraq war and former senator John Edwards accused her of political "doubletalk."
Edwards blasted Clinton's support for a Senate measure that labeled Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, which critics said may be used as a justification for war.
And Obama, who has fended off accusations from the Clinton camp that he is too inexperienced to lead, said Clinton's vote in 2002 to authorize the administration's invasion of Iraq made her a "co-author" of the war.
With the party's first nominating contest in Iowa less than two months away, Clinton's staff was forced to acknowledge planting audience questions on the campaign trail, and promised not to do it again.
The incident arose last week during a question-and-answer session in Iowa, at which a student reportedly told her campus newspaper that she had been approached by "a Clinton aide had asked her to pose a question to Mrs. Clinton about global warming," the New York Times said.
A spokesman for Clinton told the newspaper that an aide had indeed planted the question but Clinton had not been aware of it, and said the campaign would not engage in such tactics again.
"It's not something we do; it's not an official campaign policy," Mo Elleithee was quoted as saying. "But it is now an official campaign policy that we will not do this moving forward."
"It was news to me," was Clinton's response.