Why did Hillary's pet attack dog Howard Wolfson attack Barack Obama? Was it:
(a) Bill's anger at having his presidential record scrutinized
(b) A concentrated effort to lure Obama into a mud fight
(c) A desire to move attention away from her refusal to apologize for backing the Iraq War
Now the answer emerges. It was:
(d) Because Barack Obama is surging in the polls.
The Washington Post reports that Obama has gone from an anemic 17 percent of the vote among Democratic primary electorate to a more robust 24 percent, while the former First Lady dropped from 41 percent to 36 pe rcent. (Edwards, going no place fast, was mired at 14 percent in third place). So the Post has Hillary's lead cut in half from 24 percent to 12 percent.
Pollster John Zogby finds a similar trend in a February 22-24 poll with Obama surging from 14 percent to 25 percent in two weeks during which time he has Hillary gaining only 4 points from 29 percent to 33 percent. Again, Edwards runs third at 12 percent.
When you are dropping in the polls, what do you do?
(a) You attack your opponent
(b) If you have a reputation for slash and burn politics like Hillary, you accuse him of attacking you
Hillary's effort to hit Obama with the charge of negative campaigning reflected the Illinois Senator's move up in the polls, a trend her pollsters doubtless caught early in the daily national tracking surveys they are taking.
All this leaves Edwards in a bit of a quandary. Animated by their status as the first woman and the first black to run seriously for the presidency, Hillary and Obama are making the contest for the Democratic nomination an increasingly two-sided affair as Edwards fails to gather momentum.
Interestingly, the Washington Post reports that most of Obama's gains came from African American voters who has lately sided with Hillary, in their January polling by 60-20. Now Obama has turned that around and leads among blacks by 44-33. Of course, 44 percent is a far cry from the 85 percent of the black vote he will need to win, but it's quite a turnaround in the past month.
If it seems early to be focusing on the ups and downs of national polling, consider the expedited calendar for pursuit of the nominations this year and next. Nineteen states, with half of America's population, have moved or are moving their primaries up to February 5, 2008, barely three weeks after the Iowa caucuses and two after the New Hampshire primary. Among these states are California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia.
The effect will be to choose a nominee within a three-week window in the first days of 2008. To be able to mount a campaign in at least half the country by February 5, 2008, a candidate will have to amass a huge war chest in 2007. Anybody who does not have a huge bank account, perhaps as much as $100 million by January of 2008 isn't going to win the nomination.
This steep fund raising curve makes it imperative to be the front-runner in the fall of 2006. Only the leader in each party's pack of candidates will be able to make the financial cut. Edwards needs to move up to be viable, while Obama seems en route to making it a real two-way race.
On the Republican side, the Washington Post has Rudy Giuliani adding to his formidable lead over the fading John McCain, leading 44-21 with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 15 percent and Mitt Romney, whose campaign appears doomed, at 4 percent. Rudy had been nursing only a 34-27 lead over McCain last month.
If Rudy continues his current lead, he will be unstoppable, especially in view of the expedited primary calendar. And if Obama keeps up his momentum, it will be an interesting battle between the first woman and the first black for the Democratic nomination.