When Satchel Paige famously quipped: "Don't look back: Something may be gaining on you," he might as well have been talking about the 2008 presidential race. With Obama now in the fray, Hillary Clinton has every reason to be looking over her shoulder. And on the GOP side, clearly John McCain's position as "frontrunner" is tenuous.
Simply put, at this point in the game, being the second-place "frontrunner" may not be the worst position to be in.
For one thing, being the frontrunner means everyone is gunning for you. Sure, it's fun to be the New York Yankees -- but it also means that every game there is someone hoping to take you down a peg.
But being the frontrunner has another problem; it gets old. And the public is fickle.
Both John McCain and Hillary Clinton became frontrunners by literally spending years positioning themselves and building the best campaign team in the business. In Hillary's case, this included eight years as First Lady and then a term as a U.S. Senator. For at least a decade, people have been talking about her possible presidential candidacy. John McCain's failed candidacy in 2000 led to eight years of being a very high-profile U.S. Senator (including a major speech at the RNC Convention in '04). Although he would deny it, McCain has already been running for president for a couple of years.
Starting early probably means that a candidate has the time to recruit and develop the best organization. That's important. But the downside is that the public (or, at least, the media) are always looking for the next best thing.
Can you peak too early? You bet. I think there's a danger that people might get bored with the frontrunners.
So, at this point in the race, being in second place might be just where you want to be: Still within striking distance, but without that big target on your back ...