AMES, Iowa Should Hillary Clinton have skipped Iowa?
If she loses the caucus here today, will her campaign wish it had listened to the advice it got last May to take a hike on the Hawkeye state?
Back then, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, wrote a 1,500-word internal memo saying Iowa was not worth the effort.
"My recommendation is to pull completely out of Iowa and spend the money and Senator Clinton's time on other states," Henry wrote.
"If she walks away from Iowa she will devalue Iowa our consistently weakest state."
Henry's advice was never accepted.
After the memo was leaked to the press, the Clinton campaign publicly repudiated the memo and said it would compete fiercely in Iowa, which it has.
But Iowa has long been a weak spot for Clinton.
First, her husband, Bill Clinton, did not run here in 1992, because Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was running as a favorite son, and so Hillary had no organization to inherit.
Second, there was the woman thing.
"I was shocked when I learned Iowa and Mississippi have never elected a woman governor, senator or member of Congress," Hillary told Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen in October.
"There has got to be something at work here."
Third, there was the war.
Iowa Democrats tend to be more liberal than Democrats as a whole and some have never forgiven Hillary Clinton for voting for the Iraq war and refusing to say it was a mistake or to apologize for it.
At the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Des Moines in October 2006, which Bill Clinton headlined, I ran into Bruce Stone, a political activist from Grimes, Iowa, who said he had not yet decided whom to support.
"My problems with Hillary is she voted for the Iraq war and, until a few months ago, she supported it," he said. "I am a Vietnam-era vet, and I take war very seriously. Her husband? He walks on water."
And Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll for The Des Moines Register, was already finding problems for Hillary back then.
"Her negatives are so negative," Selzer told a reporter.
The final Iowa Poll before the Thursday caucus was released Monday and it showed Barack Obama leading with 32 percent, followed by Clinton at 25 percent and John Edwards at 24 percent.
Four years ago, when just about everybody thought Howard Dean would win the Iowa caucus, the Iowa Poll had the correct order of finish: John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean.
There is no way of knowing whether the poll will be correct this time, but if Hillary does lose here, her campaign may always wonder whether it would have been better off listening to Mike Henry back in May.
So should Clinton have skipped Iowa rather than risk getting her campaign off to a bad start?
"Absolutely not," a high-ranking Clinton official told me Tuesday. "There is no plausible path to the nomination that doesn't begin in Iowa."
And the Clinton campaign was far from throwing in the towel because of one poll, especially since other polls show Clinton ahead.
"I expect that we are going to do well," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told me. "We think we have momentum going into Thursday. We are going to do well."
Hillary is not going to do well with Bruce Stone, however.
Tuesday he told me he was backing Chris Dodd. And if Dodd fails to be a viable candidate Thursday night, Stone will back John Edwards.
"It is not time for a centrist; it is time for a real liberal," Stone said. "I will always be a Democrat, and if Hillary wins the nomination, she will have my absolute, full-throated support."
"But," he added, "if there is a way to have a different candidate win Iowa, I will find it."