Dick Morris and  Eileen McGann

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 percent. (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.

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

Dick Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of 2010: Take Back America. To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to www.dickmorris.com