The race for President is actually more pressing than it seems, particularly on the Dem side. Hillary Clinton has all the money and shocking name recognition; any candidate who hopes to knock her off her game has got to demonstrate a serious campaign by mid-year in terms of polling numbers and money raised, or they will see all support vanish. By July, we'll have three or four serious contenders and a bunch of pretenders. Right now, those folks look to be Obama, Edwards, Clinton, and possibly Gore. (Gore is the only candidate who can bide his time and enter late.) Here's how things look now.
Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 98%. Favorable - 58%. Definitely support this candidate - 28%.
Primaries. The primaries don't line up all that well for Hillary, and this could be a problem. In a recent poll in Iowa, she was trailing Obama and Edwards, as well as Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. Nevada's next, and I haven't seen any polling there. However, she does have a serious lead in New Hampshire (without Gore in the poll). If Edwards is still alive by South Carolina, Hillary will potentially be just 2 for 4 heading into Super Tuesday, with ten states. These also aren't a fantastic distribution: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and North Carolina are all likely to go to Gore, Obama, or Edwards. She will likely win in Delaware and New Jersey. That leaves a strange mix with Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah left up for grabs. The X factor is California, which is considering jumping in early. Hillary has the money and the operation to win in Cali, which could be the game-changer.
Strengths. Hillary will alienate a lot of people the average Dem should easily carry (like me), but she'll win over a number of women who would not otherwise vote for a Democrat. She's positioned herself as tough in foreign policy, and although her vote for the war will hurt her with the base, being a woman may innoculate her against the worst Cleland-ing by the GOP. She will also have all the money she needs. Times two.
Weaknesses. Hillary may win the nomination, but she will never inspire the nation or capture anyone's attention. She is the most highly polished politician since ... well, since Bill. She is vulnerable to an optimistic populist in the Kennedy mode. All three of her serious contenders are trying to play that role, and they will inspire some factions. If any of them catch fire, Hillary could get knocked out early.
Blogger/grassroots Love. On a scale of 1 to 10, where one is Bush and ten is Dean, give Hillary a four.
Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 78%. Favorable - 70%. Definitely support this candidate - 22%.
Primaries. Obama is such a wild card, it's hard to know how he'll do in the primaries. One thing's for sure--he could win Iowa. He's already second there, and he could capture the hearts of the Iowans, who have often given their delegates to a fringe candidate. But after that, who's to say? Obama's not enough on anyone's radar right now to measure. His strategy is to create a large national upswell and hope it carries him through the dodgy bets in New Hampshire and South Carolina and that a few maverick states like Arizona and New Mexico go for his message.
Strengths. Obama's all about optimism, honesty, and down-home familiarity. People like him because they all feel he's like them, but a little smarter and more noble. Americans hate politics, but from time to time, they fall in love with a politician who seems to subvert politics for the good of the country. If politics is about to make a shift toward transparency and away from spin and big money, Obama could really make a move on Hillary.
Weaknesses. Experience, both in office and on the trail. Does he have the foreign policy chops to stand up to Giuliani or McCain--never mind Hillary? He's running an insurgent candidacy like Ross Perot, but will he flame out like Perot did? The next five months are critical for Obama. If he hasn't emerged as the central serious Hillary foe, he may never make it.
Blogger/grassroots Love. A very cautious 7--though that could go sharply in either direction once he rises in national prominence. A better-than-even shot of being the Dean of 2008, both in terms of money and attention.
Tomorrow: Edwards and Gore.
Sources: Time's Election Guide, Pollster.com, SurveyUSA (NH results), Strategic Vision (Iowa results)