It was a good week for Fred Hubbell and Nate Boulton.

They are the early frontrunners among seven Democrats seeking to become their party’s nominee in the state’s gubernatorial election next year, according to a liberal website’s poll and Des Moines Register analysis, both published this week.

Hubbell, a retired Des Moines businessman, and Boulton, a state legislator from Des Moines, were the top choices in a poll published this week by Iowa Starting Line, a website that covers Iowa politics and is published by Pat Rynard, a former Democratic campaign staffer.

In the poll, 22 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they plan to vote for Hubbell in the June 5 primary election; 13 percent said they will vote for Boulton.

They were the only candidates to reach double figures in support; 47 percent said they are not sure for which candidate they will vote.

Cathy Glasson (6 percent), a nurse and union leader, and John Norris (5 percent), who in the past worked for Tom Vilsack and Barack Obama, received the next-highest support in the poll.

Because so many respondents said they remain unsure and because so few voters are tuned into the race this far out from the June primary, Rynard urged caution in reading too much into the early poll results.

“Obviously, since we are seven months out from the actual voting date, all of these numbers should be taken with a big grain of salt,” Rynard wrote at Iowa Starting Line. “The majority of Democrats in the state haven’t even heard about most of these candidates yet. The electorate on the day of the primary could look much different. ... This is merely a snapshot of where the race is now, not a prediction of where it’s going to end up.”

The poll, which was conducted by Atlanta-based 20/20 Insight, surveyed 762 likely Iowa Democratic primary voters from Nov. 8 to Nov. 10. The margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.

Democratic Party activists across the state reached a similar conclusion to the poll, according to a report filed this week by the Des Moines Register’s chief political reporter, Jason Noble.

Noble interviewed Democratic activists and operatives, and reported that Boulton and Hubbell “lead the seven-candidate field, bolstered by demonstrable organizational strength, high-profile endorsements and the promise of ample dollars to fund campaigns into the June 5 primary election and beyond.”

Hubbell and Boulton have displayed campaign strength in various ways in these early stages of the race.

Both have claimed successful fundraising hauls, although that cannot be independently confirmed until campaign finance reports are due to the state in January.

Hubbell, who possesses the resources to at least partially self-finance his campaign, was the first candidate to air campaign ads on television.

The Boulton and Hubbell campaigns had strong shows of campaign organization at the Polk County Democrats’ fundraiser in late September. Both had dozens of supporters show up wearing campaign T-shirts, held nearby pre-event rallies and marched in unison to the fundraiser — Boulton’s campaign banging thunder sticks and Hubbell’s accompanied by a local marching band.

But, as Rynard noted, the primary election remains seven months away. Hubbell and Boulton may appear to be the early leaders, but there is plenty of time for Glasson, Norris, or former state party chairwoman Andy McGuire to mount a serious challenge.

And with seven candidates in the race — party activist and former auditor candidate Jon Neiderbach and former Iowa City mayor Ross Wilburn also are running — the decision could wind up in the hands of the party’s delegates. If no candidate receives at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary, the nominee is chosen instead by delegates at the party’s state convention.

Bottom line: Hubbell and Boulton clearly have made a strong first impression, but there is a long way to go before the Democratic nomination is decided.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. 

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