Strong winds swept through the political community on Monday night with the release of the latest Washington Post-ABC poll in Iowa showing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in second place for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her rival, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) led in the poll with 30 percent, Hillary trailed at 26 percent and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) was in third at 22 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, auditioning for vice president, was fourth at 11 percent. This is the first primary or caucus poll nationwide or in any state in the nation this entire year that shows Hillary in second place!
The internals of the poll contain even worse news for Hillary:
• Obama is running even with Hillary among Iowa women.
• Of the 55 percent of Iowa Democrats who prefer change (versus the 33 percent who want experience), Obama leads with 43 percent to Edwards’s 25 and Hillary’s 17 percent. Being for change in a Democratic primary is like being for stability in a GOP contest. It’s the growth sector.
• Half of Hillary’s voters have not attended a previous caucus, versus 43 percent of Obama’s and 24 percent of Edwards’s. With the caucus system as complex as it is and the places of the meetings as distant as they are, previous attendance is a key indicator of the likelihood of their actually voting this time. If we assume no first-time caucus attendee will actually show up (an exagge ration but worth thinking about) then Hillary would finish third with Obama and Edwards tied for first.
So what does all this mean?
Can Hillary turn it around? She will increase her advertising and personal campaigning in Iowa, but so will her rivals now that they smell blood. The poll’s field dates were Nov. 14-18. The last national debate, in which Hillary had something of a comeback, was on Nov. 15, right in the middle of the sampling. It is possible that her stronger performance might tip some more votes her way, and she does have one more debate before the voting.
But consultant David Garth once said that the hardest thing to do in politics is change direction, and Obama’s and Edwards’s upward momentum, as well as Hillary’s slide, have gone on for three weeks now.