THE NOTE: Can She Win?


Five observations for this first week of fall:

1. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the establishment Democrat, but isn't being blamed for it (and endorsements like today's by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., drive David Axelrod and Joe Trippi batty).

2. Former governor Mitt Romney is running against the Republican establishment, but isn't being blamed for it (and his rivals aren't batting an eye -- but how many wins like this weekend's will he rack up before they start worrying?).

3. Judith Giuliani succeeding in making her husband's NRA speech memorable for something other than guns (but next time his phone will be on vibrate -- and his record means he better have a few dozen similar speeches in the offing).

4. President Bush doesn't play political prognosticator by accident (and especially not when Karl Rove beat him to making the call) -- and this is one prediction Clinton can live without.

5. Just for perspective, remember that has nothing on those crazy Canadians (but that won't help The New York Times explain its oh-so-friendly discount).

Now that Clinton, D-N.Y., has closed out her healthcare week (with a round on all five Sunday shows -- who else could even score five invitations, much less succeed in not looking foolish at least once?) here comes a question that all (yes, ALL) of her Democratic rivals are asking -- and that she's only begun to answer. Can she win?

"She's already winning," Clinton's supporters like to say -- and they have the polls (and now Bayh, joining Tom Vilsack) to back them up. But the issue of perceived electability remains the one issue that presents Clinton's most significant obstacle to the presidency (and will as long as her last name is "Clinton" -- or until she can drop her negative poll ratings below 45 percent).

Among the stubborn facts for camp Clinton: the Clinton presidency wasn't all sweetness and light (and neither was the first lady); Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has an insane amount of money to drop (and he's not saving up for a big vacation or something); Democrats (to paraphrase the previous pundit-in-chief) still would rather fall in love than fall in line; and there's always a race, no matter what national polls show.

What's dangerous for Clinton is that Obama and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C. -- as well as the second tier -- are beginning to advance the same anti-Clinton argument. And they realize that time is running short.

With The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny reporting yesterday that Clinton has "consolidated her lead," Axelrod (of the Obama campaign) says: "The question is ultimately, Is she credible -- whether people buy her as an agent of change in Washington." And don't miss the significance of this admission, from Trippi, a top Edwards adviser: "It's pretty clear that she has sort of pulled away." (Think they may want to do something about that?)

Even President Bush thinks Clinton is going to win (did anyone think he'd toss away Karl Rove's playbook?). As the president tells Bill Sammon in his new book, "She's got a national presence, and this is becoming a national primary." But he's optimistic that a Republican will end up winning: "I think our candidate can beat her, but it's going to be a tough race."

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