The USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday morning showed - for the first time - that Barack Obama has pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in a national survey.
The numbers were: Obama 30%, Clinton 29%.
According to USA Today's Susan Page: "The survey of 310 Democrats and 160 independents who 'lean' Democratic, taken Friday through Sunday, has a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points" which means that Hillary might be ahead by as many as nine percentage points, or she might be as far behind as 11.
Statistically insignificant as the Obama lead might be, it is exactly what the Clinton campaign has been trying to avoid since the polls closed last November 7 and the Clinton Senate re-election campaign became the Clinton Presidential campaign. The watchword of the Clinton campaign has been "inevitability."
When Barack Obama showed early popularity - if not early polling strength - the Clinton campaign immediately shifted into high gear, advancing the announcement of her candidacy, increasing the staff, opening offices in the early primary/caucus states, and putting her on the road.
When the first quarter fundraising numbers were released there was an expectation that Clinton's totals would be in the "gee-whiz!" range. And they were.
Unfortunately, the Obama numbers were in the "holy-you-know-what!" range.
If you deduct the $10 million Clinton transferred (quite legitimately) from her Senate campaign account and count only the money which was raised for the primary (not general) election period, Obama's campaign brought in almost $24 million to Clinton's $19 million.
As an example of how the Clinton campaign has been chasing Obama remember the Selma, Alabama visits.
After Obama's campaign announced he would be in Selma in early March to mark the 42nd anniversary of the famous civil rights march, the Clinton campaign scrambled to get an event on her schedule to make certain she was viewed as having the black vote firmly in her corner.
According to the AP's coverage at the time, "black leaders say buzz about Obama's candidacy is spreading, particularly among younger people and others who might not typically participate in elections."
Bill Clinton was brought in to help stave off any lasting damage including, according reporting at the time, an impending endorsement of Obama by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga) who was described by CNN as "one of the leaders of the Selma march."
Lewis later denied he had made up his mind in the race, but the notion of Bill having to make phone calls to protect Hillary continue to reverberate in Democratic circles.
Another point in the USA Today/Gallup poll is the man who is in third place: Al Gore. He scored with 17 percent of Dem voters as their first choice, with John Edwards barely scraping above double digits at 11.
Notably, if Gore were not in the race, his votes split pretty evenly between Obama (who goes from 30 to 36) and Clinton (who goes from 29 to 37).
When someone mentions the fact that the Republican world is roiling over the need for another candidate - Fred Thompson - remind them that Al Gore is the favorite of nearly one in five Democrats and Gore continues to deny he is even interested.
Another problem for the inevitability strategy is the head-to-head number between Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani (who leads McCain 32-19 among Republicans). According to this poll Giuliani would beat Clinton 52-45, a seven percentage point lead which is well outside the margin of error.
Watch for the Clinton campaign to amp up its activities - especially its paid advertising. They didn't ever expect Obama to be even with them, much less ahead and they certainly cannot afford to allow Obama to open up any daylight.
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