The Note: Rocking the Boat

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With everyone focused on those feisty Republicans, who trade front-runner status (and write memos about it) about as often as Lindsey Lohan appears in court, something interesting has emerged in the Democratic race for president: stability.

As the new ABC News/Washington Post poll makes clear, the Democratic race is very much in the control of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who sees her support hardening and holds a 45-30 edge over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C. -- a distant third in the new poll with 12 percent -- essentially occupies his own tier, as the only other Democrat registering above 3 percent.

If you're not named "Clinton," there's not much to like in these numbers, particularly how stubborn they seem to be. That's the national landscape that greets Democrats when they gather tonight at 7 pm ET in Charleston, S.C., for the debate that's most likely to throw a few screwballs their way (and makes the YouTubing of American politics semi-official). It's the first debate sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, but these candidates already know each other quite well, and it looks like it's time to get personal.

Will Edwards play the aggressor, catering to the liberal base he's done so much to court? (Yes, if his wife and his campaign manager have anything to do with it.) Will Obama muster the chutzpah to utter Clinton's name when offering his verbal jabs? (Doubtful, but you know he wants to.) Will anyone other than Mike Gravel do anything even close to memorable? (Perhaps, but it probably won't matter.)

Clinton may feel good about where she is, yet the Inevitable Candidate is still not the Enthusiasm Candidate. "The challenge for Clinton is that a new direction and new ideas actually are more valued than strong leadership and experience, by 51 percent to 42 percent, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. "That means her strongest cards are in a weaker suit; if Obama were able either to challenge her on strength and experience, or -- more likely -- better capitalize on his 'new direction' image, the contest could tighten."

Where is Obama's opening? One clue from the poll: "Clinton's initial support for the Iraq war is not proving a significant impediment to her bid," The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write. "She has a 51 percent to 29 percent lead over Obama among those in favor of a complete, immediate withdrawal."

The static nature of the campaign hasn't gotten past the confident Clinton. "As opposed to talking hypothetically, if you talk based on the information that we have, I am winning," she told a Des Moines Register editorial board meeting, practically inviting someone to knock her down a peg and point out that nobody votes for nearly six months.

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