Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- One of the most intriguing and persistent questions of the 2008 presidential race is this: Why isn't Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, running away with it?

President Bush remains unpopular among the electorate at large. Polls show a majority of Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq. Democrats beat Republicans in all of the generic surveys and seem poised to make further gains in Congress next year. A bleak political environment appears deeply anti-Republican.

But if all this is true, why, then, is Clinton in a dead heat with Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani? Something is going on here that Gallup and the other pollsters aren't picking up.

At the beginning of this month, a nationwide Quinnipiac University poll found that Giuliani led the liberal New York senator by a razor-thin 45 percent to 43 percent. The same poll, however, said voters believed by 58 percent to 37 percent that Bush's low-approval ratings made it difficult for any Republican to win the White House next year.

National polls, like the stock market, rise and fall with the mood of the American people at any given moment. Besides, we don't elect presidents by a national popular vote but state by state -- and Clinton has the edge in a lot of key battlegrounds in the Midwest that will likely decide the outcome.

Still, the closeness of the race at this early juncture suggests that there are some serious problems with Clinton's candidacy and -- more to the point -- with her personally.

It also suggests that if she is the nominee of the Democratic Party, the Republicans have a better-than-even chance of defeating her and holding on to the presidency for another four years -- despite the hostility toward the GOP.

The biggest obstacle to Clinton's election is her unpopularity among the voters at large. There is something about her that they do not like. Gallup found that just as many voters disapprove of her as like her. Quinnipiac said her favorability/unfavorability score fell from 48 percent/43 percent in August to 46 percent/46 percent today.

The fact is that she has the highest unfavorable scores of any candidate among the front-runners in either party, and nothing she has said or done in the past year has fundamentally changed that.

When about half the electorate says it definitely could not vote for a candidate under any circumstance whatsoever, that obviously raises serious questions about her electability -- questions that her party doesn't want to face, judging from her strength in the early party primaries.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.