Donald Lambro

Iowa Democrats were especially angry with their party's leadership last month after it caved in to Bush's demands for a war-funding bill without a troop-pullout deadline.

"In talking to Democrats out here, the No. 1 issue is Iraq. They're unhappy there was no timetable in the bill to get our troops out. That's what I'm hearing on the ground," said Rob Tully, former Iowa Democratic state chairman. Yet some Democrats say they do not believe Clinton helped herself on that score by voting against a troop-funding bill that she had previously said she would support.

Democratic campaign strategist David Sirota thinks she has undercut her credibility on the war "because she has projected a policy calculation on it." "She has tried to thread an 'unthreadable' needle by first saying, 'I voted for the war, but now I'm critical of the war, and I'm not going to say it's a mistake, but I'm not going to vote for a blank check.' There's no ideology there. It does not seem like a policy that is governed by principle," Sirota told me.

And Clinton's transparent political calculations on the war, which Edwards attacked at the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, are not her only problem. There is also her growing liability as a deeply polarizing figure. That's one of the key points election analyst Charlie Cook raised about her at a briefing last Saturday at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's Mackinac Policy Conference.

Between 46 percent and 48 percent of Americans "won't vote for her no matter what. If she were a stock, she'd have a very narrow trading range. There's no room for error," Cook told the assembled businessmen. That's not a good place for the Democratic front-runner to be, especially in an election cycle where the odds of the Republicans holding the White House are problematic at best. Historically, since World War II, it is rare for a party to win a third term.

But we're in a very volatile campaign cycle where all the old precedents could be broken. The top Republican presidential contenders are showing surprising strength against the Democratic front-runners when all the data says it should be otherwise.

At a time when the Democrats are having trouble demonstrating they can govern, and their front-runner remains deeply unpopular, no one should count the Republicans out.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.