Exactly one week from the first action of the 2008 presidential election, the big picture remains pretty muddled. It's expected yet surprising: Expected because 2008 will mark the first time since 1928 that no incumbent president or vice president is running in the election. Surprising because many pundits had thought this should be just the beginning of a yearlong coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Hillary's relentless march back to the White House was in the works ever since the Clintons vacated it on Jan. 20, 2001. It has always been the ultimate goal of one of the most ambitious politicians of our time -- male or female. The whole show about being a New York senator was just biding time to raise money.
But little did she know that the road bump would become the size of a treacherous mountain, in the person of Barack Obama. The junior senator from Illinois is bereft of policy experience but has charm in spades. And in American politics, having the voters like you sometimes can overcome inconveniences like completely lacking in foreign policy expertise.
Without a doubt, Hillary is in a vicious fight with Obama in Iowa, and beyond, despite the candidates' assurances that they'd play nice. Hillary -- and her camp -- has already broken out the girl card, the race card, and lately, the drug card. Obama should be rightly relieved because Clinton's people have worked long and hard to find all the skeletons, and yet, her numbers are not improving.
Let's deal with numbers. The latest polling data shows that Clinton, who once held a commanding double-digit lead, is running neck-and-neck with Obama, with John Edwards a close third. For now, I'm disregarding the latest polling data from American Research Group, which reports that Hillary is 15 points ahead of Obama, up from 4 points just a week ago. That, coupled with a similar wild swing in its poll for Republican candidates, leads me to believe that there is bias in the sampling.
Keep in mind that the winner of the Iowa Caucus hardly becomes the automatic favorite to win the party's nomination. In the last three contested elections (when neither the incumbent President or VP was running), only John Kerry emerged as the party's nominee. Both Tom Harkin (1992) and Dick Gephardt (1988) disappeared pretty quickly after that.
What the Iowa Caucus does, however, is to root out pretenders, as it famously did Howard Dean in 2004, after his infamous Munchian Scream. In 2008, it means this contest is most crucial for Edwards. If he does not come in as at least a strong third, he can expect that his tenuous support would be quickly siphoned by either Clinton or Obama.
So just what's my take on Iowa? My prediction is that Clinton will narrowly edge Obama, with Edwards coming in a relatively strong third, allowing him to limp into New Hampshire to fight another day. An outright loss by Clinton, however, might prove disastrous, as her once iron-clad grip on the Granite State is showing serious signs of erosion.
So much for the coronation, eh?