These polls matter, because they offer primary voters a choice: They can pick a nominee who plays to their party's base, or they look to the rare candidates who just might draw independent votes in November 2008 and achieve a big victory that signals a mandate.
It's not just a matter of winning, but a question of what kind of tone will emanate from Washington in 2009. Wednesday, Clinton's negative rating was 54 percent; on Dec. 20 it was 50 percent. Her unfavorable numbers may fluctuate, but they will not go away.
"She has a good chance of winning," Rasmussen said of Clinton, "but she has very little chance of winning a serious majority."
Without a serious majority, the next president -- whoever he or she may be -- will walk into the White House hobbled. If it's a 51-49 vote, almost as many people who elected the next president will have a stake in undermining the new commander in chief's success.