Raising Hill

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 12, 2007

Clinton has not only turned a negative into a positive, she has turned it into a negative for her experience-poor opponents — particularly Obama, who by implication is the green, unschooled Hillary of 15 years ago.

When Obama entered the presidential race in January, the conventional wisdom held that he had burst Clinton’s “aura of inevitability” in the Democratic primaries. But eight months later, with just four months before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, it appears that Hillary’s got her aura back. Clinton’s national lead is as high as ever, in new USA Today/Gallup, Rasmussen, and CBS News/New York Times polls. Her lead in New Hampshire remains dominant, and she has gained on, or even passed, Edwards in Iowa.

The polls are so good for her, in fact, that the Obama campaign sent an e-mail to supporters this past week reminding them that “early polls don’t mean a thing.”

This week’s Newsweek cover story dubs Clinton “the safest money in the 2008 race.” Several Republican candidates, including Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, are explicitly arguing that the GOP needs them as the best candidate to take on Clinton, as if she’s already won the nomination.

“Is there an aura of inevitability?” asks Lou D’Allesandro, a New Hampshire state senator who has yet to decide who he will endorse. “She’s probably as close to it as you get.”

One shot to beat her?
If Clinton makes it to the New Hampshire primary with this aura of inevitability intact, she will be virtually unstoppable, several pundits tell the Phoenix. Her poll numbers and field organization in the Granite State are formidable, and after New Hampshire the race slingshots rapidly into a February 5th 30-state primary, where Clinton leads handily in almost every state, and has the money to defend that lead wherever she needs.

To defeat her, even some people working for her opponents concede, Clinton must be beaten in Iowa. If the results of the Iowa Democratic caucus don’t dramatically upset the assumption of an inevitable Clinton nomination, the media will focus instead on the Republican caucus results.

But some believe that if one challenger can emerge from Iowa to make it a two-person race, Democrats’ fear of Clinton’s unelectability will begin to take a toll.

“She has outlasted the Obama boomlet,” says Michael Goldman, of Government Insight Group, who advises the Edwards campaign. “What she hasn’t put aside is the perception that allowed that boomlet to begin.”

Chris Dodd is catching a mini-boomlet himself this month, and Bill Richardson had one earlier this year, but both currently seem a long way from winning any early state. Observers consider Obama the most likely to emerge as the alternative to Clinton. He certainly figures to be best positioned to battle with her after the four early contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. He has the money to compete in the February 5th mega-primary — $36 million on hand at the end of June — as well as media coverage, and his No. 1 fan Oprah Winfrey. And he hopes to do well in the South, where African-Americans make up a large percentage of Democratic voters.

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