Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Clinton's declining support in the New Hampshire Democratic primary sent shock waves through her party last week, but one set of troubling numbers stood out over all the others.

The closely watched Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, found the number of likely Democratic voters who viewed her favorably had plummeted this month to 64 percent, from 74 percent in February. Equally ominous for Clinton's nomination prospects, her unfavorable score shot up to 24 percent, from 15 percent.

Her rising unfavorables among rank-and-file Democrats, together with her declining approval numbers from independents and liberal activists, drove her overall support down to an anemic 27 percent (from 35 percent in February). It is still early in the Democratic presidential race, with nine months to go before the New Hampshire primary in January, but clearly the aura of Clinton's invincibility was dissipating. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were breathing down her neck and in some polls had all but caught up with her.

Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice-presidential nominee, was running just six points behind Clinton in the Granite State, a margin that pollsters said had turned the first-in-the-nation primary race into a statistical dead heat.

At 20 percent in the latest state polls, Obama was running virtually even with Edwards. But his meteoric candidacy shot up to a higher orbit last week after he announced he had virtually matched Clinton dollar for dollar in the all-important money-raising game.

It is dangerous to draw any firm conclusions from a single state poll, but there were other independent surveys that supported its findings. Pollster John Zogby reported slightly differing numbers that showed Clinton leading by 29 percent but still only narrowly ahead of her two chief rivals who were in second place with 23 percent each. Zogby's analysis: The contest had finally turned into "a three-way race for the party's nomination."

Clinton's biggest weaknesses, Zogby found, were among independents and liberal, largely antiwar activists who were increasingly turned off by her more hawkish views on the Iraq war.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.