Donald Lambro

"Part of the reason is that among the candidates, she seems the most supportive of the war in Iraq and appears less critical of President Bush than the other candidates," he said.

Clinton, who is reportedly planning to announce her candidacy later this month, has yet to campaign in New Hampshire, and Democrats in the state say they expect her poll numbers to improve once she begins active campaigning.

"You cannot underestimate Sen. Clinton. She is well known, has the ability to raise a lot of money and has a great spouse, Bill Clinton, who will be supporting and advising her," said Jim Demers, a longtime party operative in the state.

But Demers, who said he intends to support and work for Obama if he runs, pointed to one little-noticed development that further fed the political buzz in the party about Clinton's weaknesses.

"In previous presidential-primary cycles, many candidates had committed support from some big-name politicians," Demers told me. "Usually a year in advance, they have big names on their team. This year, 99 percent of the activists are uncommitted and waiting. That's unusual."

That the big names have not come out in favor of Clinton at this point speaks volumes about her candidacy, other Democrats told me. They are waiting for her to come into the state to measure her message against the others, especially against Obama, who electrified audiences with his skills as an orator -- a talent that Clinton, a dry, uninspiring speaker, does not have.

Iraq looms large in this environment. Clinton's support for the war and her public opposition to party demands for a speedy withdrawal have clearly hurt her with many rank-and-file Democrats. It was the issue that catapulted Howard Dean to the front of the pack early in the 2003-2004 cycle "and that concern has intensified here over the past two years," especially since Bush decided to send in more troops, Demers said.

Clinton was in Iraq over the weekend, talking to the troops and telling them that any criticism of the war did not lessen support for what they are doing there. But she is seen by the party's dominant antiwar crowd as a defender of the war effort there and that is triggering increased support for the antiwar messages behind heard from Edwards and Obama.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.