- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton trails her chief Democratic rivals in the Iowa caucus polls and is clinging to a shaky front-runner status in New Hampshire — the two pivotal kickoff contests that could decide her fate in next year’s nomination battle.

A mere nine months before Democrats begin choosing their nominee in the snowy caucuses and primaries of January, the senator from New York retains her position at the front of the pack in the national party-preference polls. But she also faces increasingly tighter races in Iowa and New Hampshire — states known for burying front-runners and boosting challengers.

In Iowa, the latest polls compiled by the Real Clear Politics Web site (www.realclearpolitics.com) showed that former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina led Mrs. Clinton by an average 30.3 percent to 26.8 percent. An April 1 Strategic Vision poll had Mr. Edwards leading at 27 percent, with 20 percent for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Mrs. Clinton close behind at 19 percent.

The Midwestern state, which holds its first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses Jan. 14, was where Democratic front-runner Howard Dean stumbled in a series of embarrassing gaffes that swiftly swept him from the 2004 presidential race.

The political landscape looks better for Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Jan. 22, but not by much. A Zogby poll showed her narrowly leading Mr. Edwards by six points — 29 percent to 23 percent — with Mr. Obama in a dead heat for second place. But the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll last week showed that her support has fallen dramatically since February, from 35 percent to 27 percent, while Mr. Edwards’ support had jumped by five percentage points over the same period to 21 percent — putting the two in a statistical dead heat.

Mrs. Clinton’s national front-runner status was reinforced last week when she announced that she had collected $26 million in campaign donations in the first quarter, a record in presidential primary contributions. But Mr. Obama appeared to trump that achievement when he announced a few days later that he had raised almost as much, $25 million, and from twice as many donors — 100,000 — than Mrs. Clinton reported.

Mr. Edwards said he had raised $14 million, but that was enough to keep him competitive with his two rivals, campaign advisers said.

“No doubt [Mrs. Clinton] is the front-runner, but this is becoming a real horse race in New Hampshire,” said Jim Demers, a veteran Democratic activist in the state who is supporting Mr. Obama.

Even though Mr. Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, held first place in Iowa, Mr. Obama was drawing by far the biggest crowds of all three contenders in New Hampshire.

“If the level of interest in New Hampshire is indicative of a trend, then Obama has a lot of good days ahead of him. The size of the crowds have not diminished,” Mr. Demers said. “Around 3,000 showed up for a town meeting in Durham, and 2,500 people came out to hear him in Keene. No other candidate here is attracting those kinds of crowds.”

While campaign advisers insist that it is early in the two-year election cycle and that the poll numbers can and will change, Democratic strategists and independent pollsters have begun focusing on Mrs. Clinton’s growing challenges in these two states. A loss in either or both would hurt Mrs. Clinton the most because of her higher expectations as the national front-runner, a Democratic strategist in Iowa said.

“Even if Hillary barely won Iowa, that would not be good for her heading into New Hampshire,” said pollster Del Ali of Research 2000, who will be polling in both states this week.

Officials say there is much more early campaign activity in both Iowa and New Hampshire than in previous presidential contests.

“The campaigns are in a full-blown campaign mode. … We’re experiencing events and activities that are usually held in August and September — large events with 1,000-plus crowds that usually happen in the fall,” said Ray Buckley, the Democratic state chairman in New Hampshire.


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