Donald Lambro

Edwards led among independents with a solid 33 percent, compared to 26 percent for Obama and only 19 percent for Clinton. Obama, on the other hand, crushes his rivals among liberals and so-called progressives with 43 percent support, compared to 17 percent for Edwards and only 16 percent for Clinton. Not too many weeks ago, Democratic officials in New Hampshire saw the former first lady as the candidate to beat. Not any longer. "This race is tightening, and it's up for grabs," state Democratic chairman Ray Buckley told me. "No one should be counted out right now," he said of the three front-runners.

Still, Clinton remained at the head of the pack in the national numbers. She led her two main rivals by an average of 10.7 percentage points in six national polls monitored by the Real Clear Politics Web site last week.

But a recent American Research Group poll showed her in a dead heat with Edwards in Iowa, scene of the nation's first nominating caucuses, where support for an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq was intense and where his economic-populist message plays well among the state's strong labor-union base.

Edwards, perhaps the best orator in the race, is betting that a victory there would give him enough momentum to overtake Clinton in New Hampshire, a state long known for upsetting party front-runners.

Yet another strategic element in the emerging stop-Hillary movement was the breathtaking $25 million that Obama reported raising in the first quarter, nearly matching Clinton's $26 million take. The sheer size of his war chest was impressive enough, but it was the 100,000 donors -- twice that of Clinton's contributors -- that was the buzz of the party last week.

Suddenly, Obama and Edwards showed they could go the distance with Clinton and they had enough money and structural party support to take them into next year's costly front-loaded primaries.

All of this raised renewed questions about the real depth of Clinton's support in her party, which many strategists believe is broad but not very deep. "Hillary's support is one layer of a rock-hard base, covered by layers of shifting sand," said Democratic media strategist Bud Jackson. "The big question that looms is how much lower can Hillary's numbers go before they bottom out at her level of rock-hard support."

Last week's numbers showed "that Hillary does not have the nomination locked down," Jackson told me.

Privately, other Democratic campaign advisers agree. Many say that if the race were between Clinton and one of her two rivals, she would likely overwhelm him. But against two popular, well-financed Democrats, both of whom can outperform her on the stump, it is a different matter altogether.

Stay tuned.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.