Barack Obama's campaign is still in the center of the ballgame. Take a moment before you throw your support and cash behind Hillary.
- The “Hillary is inevitable” storyline is dangerous – for her.
| The Clinton campaign has done an excellent job of cultivating an aura of inevitability around Clinton – it work for Bush in 1999 and, they hope it will work for Hillary in 2008. But when the public comes to believe that your candidate is inevitable, infallible, or a machine, the impact of a stumble, gaffe, or scandal is magnified – and the tone changes, the storyline shifts rapidly from “the campaign is invincible” to “the campaign is stumbling apart.” All it takes is a couple of bad polls, a poor debate performance, or a few small scandals, and suddenly the media swarm is all around you and the tone has changed. The image of inevitability is great – but coming at this early stage, it leaves you deeply vulnerable to three months of “the campaign is slipping” stories. Presidential politics is always about lowing expectations - and they don't get any higher than this.
- It’s always too early to listen to polls in Iowa
| Say what you want about Iowa’s role as the most influential arbiter of our presidential candidates, they take their role seriously. So seriously, in fact, that almost half of Iowa caucus goers don’t decide who they’re backing until the final week – in 2004, polls showed Dean leading Kerry by double-digits into the final days. It's still a wide open field there. Add to that the eccentricity of the caucus system: it doesn’t matter how many supporters you have, it matters how many are willing to brave the cold to go spend hours sitting in a community center room on your behalf. And second-choices matter: when the Richardson and Biden supporters – and they’re out there – show up and realize their man isn’t going to win, with whom will they cast their lots?
- The comic unpredictability of this year’s primary calendar.
| Iowa is not the only unpredictable factor. With major states from Florida to Michigan jostling to change the dates of their primaries, precedent and sanctions be damned, the traditional roadmap of Win-Iowa-Grab-Momentum-Take-New-Hampshire-On-to-Victory may be thrown out the window this year. It’s entirely possible that Iowa and New Hampshire could split between candidates before Super Tuesday’s mother load of delegates are split across multiple candidates. Suddenly the candidacy is up for grabs in never-before-mattered states, and the campaigns are scrambling. Sure, the roadmap may work in 2008 just as well as it did in 2004 for John Kerry – which is why Obama, Edwards, and Clinton are all pumping resources into Iowa – but the take-away is that this year is different, and it's forcing the campaigns to plan for all sorts of unknowns. As a result, Obama could lose states that in other years would be fatal – but in this quirky campaign become just roadbumps on the way to the nomination.