With polls in Iowa pointing to a tightening three-way race, Democratic candidates are scrambling for votes in a contest that could shape the rest of the primary season. Most polls show Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a dead heat ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, with John Edwards within striking distance. The New Hampshire primary, less than a week later, is shaping up as a two-way race between Clinton and Obama, but a surprise Edwards victory in Iowa could scramble that contest, too.
In Iowa, Obama continued to stress his theme of “real, meaningful change,” while painting Clinton as the captive of special interests. Clinton embarked on a helicopter tour with her husband of all 99 Iowa counties, after picking up the endorsement of the influential Des Moines Register. “We want to give people a good sense of her, not only as a leader, but as a person,” former President Bill Clinton said. Edwards was sounding an increasingly populist note, railing against “the few and the powerful.”
Clinton is facing “a moment of great peril,” said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. As recently as six weeks ago, she was seen as “the inevitable victor.” But as Obama found his voice, Clinton seemed to lose hers. By prematurely engaging in a general election strategy that stressed her more hawkish views, she failed to inspire the Democratic base. If she can’t stop Obama in Iowa, her loss “could easily cascade” into losses in New Hampshire and beyond.
Clinton is often called too “polarizing” to win in November, said Ezra Klein in the Los Angeles Times. But “polarization isn’t a character trait, it’s the outcome of a process.” As her opponents become better known, opinions about them, positive and negative, will harden. It’s not that Obama and Edwards are less polarizing than Clinton. “It’s that they’re not as polarizing yet.”
The scrum in Iowa reveals something surprising about the Democrats, said Robert J. Caldwell in The San Diego Union-Tribune: “In an election cycle that should overwhelmingly favor them,” none of their leading candidates is coming across as a shoo-in come November. Clinton’s “overly calculating” campaign has turned off many voters. Obama has personal warmth and an inspiring message, but on national security, he seems dangerously naïve. In short, Republicans still have reason to be optimistic.