Hillary Clinton -- She's In!

Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary under President Clinton, agrees.

"I think that the dynamic of the race probably pushed her to go earlier than she had originally thought," he said. "So I think there was a danger of waiting too long to get in, and having some sense that the race was moving without you."

The Front-Runner: Advantages and Pitfalls

Clinton's current lead over the rest of the pack heading into the Democratic party primary season -- still a year away -- is massive. Clinton has 41 percent support among likely Democrat primary voters, while Obama, her closest competitor, trails at 17 percent. But few doubt that the threat he poses is real.

"Here's the problem that Barack Obama presents to Hillary Clinton: In many ways he's what Bill Clinton was in 1991 and 1992," Stephanopoulos said. "He's the fresh face. He's the man who reaches across party lines. He's the man from Hope in 2007 and 2008."

While Obama has been grabbing headlines, the ABC News/Washington Post poll released Saturday suggests that Clinton is still the clear front-runner. Among Black Democrats she beats Obama 60-20; among Democratic women she leads 49 to 18. But being the front-runner has its perils.

"When you're the front-runner, everyone else is looking at a big target on your back," Mark Mellman, a Democratic consultant, said. "That's who people are investigating, that's who people are trying to uncover some bad news about. That's who the other candidates are thinking about how can we bring her down."

The Dreaded "Unfavorable

Polling suggests enough people like Clinton to elect her -- 54 percent. But her unfavorable rating, 44 percent, is the highest of any candidate. Can she remain viable with such a negative rating?

"She has to hold it," Stephanopoulos said. "It can't get any higher. Any Democrat by the end of the campaign is going to be up at around 44 percent unfavorable. That's just what happens over the course of the campaign. The problem for her is that she starts there."

He added that Clinton has had success in her Senate campaigns reducing her "unfavorable" rating in Republican-leaning New York districts. But the strategy she relied on for this success -- one-on-one "retail politics" -- may not work on a national scale.

"One of the other challenges she faces in the campaign is, will she be able to pull off retail politics," Stephanopoulos said. "Will she be able to shed the media circus that is going to be with her all the time and really engage people in their living room."

A More Fundamental Problem

Murphy, the Republican strategist, maintained that Clinton faces the much greater challenge of conquering voters' ingrained perception that she is "tough, she's mean, she's ruthless, and you can't trust her."

"That's the baggage I think she carries and it's significant baggage," Murphy said. "Both in the Democratic primary, and particularly outside in the general election where more moderate and conservative voters are an important part of the pie."

Mellman, the Democratic consultant, argues that Murphy is simply wrong.

"The reality is it's not the perception people have of Hillary Clinton," he said. "Gallup does a poll. It asks the most admired person. It's the 11th time Hillary Clinton's been the most-admired woman in the country."

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