Dick Morris and  Eileen McGann

The presidential race is now entering its most dangerous period for the front-runners in each party — Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. With each boasting consistent and formidable leads in most na tional polling, the leading candidate in each party must now prove his and her mettle by winning in a small state among a relative handful of voters.

And Iowa can be a funny place. When a presidential campaign, funded and staffed on a national scale, crams itself into a tiny state, the resulting overkill makes the outcome hard to predict. Even candidates whose resources could not yet begin to cover the entire country — Huckabee for example — can effectively blanket Iowa.

So far, the trends in Iowa are not good for either front-runner. Hillary holds only the narrowest of leads over Obama — less than two points in the recent Iowa Straw Poll — a survey which also found Rudy running a disastrous fourth on the Republican side of the ledger.

Hillary’s vulnerability is especially interesting now that the Democrats running against her seem determined to take off their gloves and go after the front runner. The Marquis of Queensbury rules that have restrained them seem to have fallen by the wayside and a tag team of Obama, Edwards, and Dodd appears ready to deconstruct her bit by bit.

By himself, it is clear that Obama lacks the starch to go after Hillary. In Tuesday night’s debate, Tim Russert set up an opportunity for the Illinois Senator with his first question, probing why he felt she was lacking in candor. Instead of charging into the fray, as Russert’s question invited, he began by denigrating the media hype about his remarks.

If Obama played T-ball, he’d bunt!

But John Edwards seems to have a bracing effect on the reluctant dragon from Illinois. His trial lawyer style, eviscerating Hillary while smiling all the time, appears to be making headway. Between them, with a bit of Chris Dodd thrown in, Hillary was team-tackled on Tuesday night.

However, it is Hillary herself who creates her own vulnerability. With linguistic obfuscation reminiscent of Bill’s more famous remarks — “I didn’t inhale” and “It depends on what the definition of is, is” — Senator Clinton is determined not to tell us where she stands on anything.

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