This leaves two trajectories: Clinton stays steady and has this locked up by Christmas. Or something happens to knock her off her pedestal, either an outside event, a campaign misstep, or an anti-Clinton message that starts to resonate from one of her increasingly aggressive rivals. The Republicans are already taking her on (and they love when she finds new ways to spend money) though such criticism may wind up helping her in the primaries.
Whether Clinton has to break a sweat could depend on Obama, who is tweaking his message on the trail. Obama, who hits Leno tonight (nothing left for him to announce for, unfortunately), is talking policy in a way that designed to connect with voters directly, as with the plan to address rural issues he unveiled yesterday. And he is just beginning to start the direct engagement with Clinton so many Democrats have been waiting for.
If Obama's message is going to grow his support, it's going to have to happen soon. "His call for a 'new kind of politics' faces a broad test in his own party," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post. "It may be that his summons to 'turn the page' past the country's red-blue polarization is not what many Democrats want to hear after seven years of mounting anger at Bush and the Republican-dominated government."
"Obama faults a broken system in Washington for failures that many Democratic voters attribute simply to having the other side in power," MacGillis reports. "By contrast, Clinton more directly exploits Democrats' feelings of resentment."
Obama was asked directly last night by a female voter why she should vote for him instead of Clinton, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. This is a fascinating answer: "It involves a little more risk with me," Obama conceded, calling Clinton a "known commodity." Then this (hardly crisp) explanation: "If every move you're making is based on a static politics, or you're looking backwards and you're saying, 'Okay, this is what the polls tell me, this is how much we have to maneuver, and this is how I don't open myself to too much criticism from the Republicans.' If that's your strategy . . . you are not going to deliver on the big challenges."
And Clinton has to be careful about how she portrays her "inevitability" -- Iowa voters don't like being taken for granted. "Did I miss something? Did we already have the Iowa caucuses? Did we already have the New Hampshire primary?" former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., said yesterday in Iowa, per the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys. "Have we decided who the nominee's going to be? Have you decided?"
Among the Republicans, Giuliani, R-N.Y., decided to take the bait yesterday by addressing charges that he's not a pure-enough adherent of party dogma. "Am I real Republican?" Giuliani asked members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, per ABC's Jan Simmonds. "I gave my blood for the Republican Party in New York."
This fight is no more favorable to Giuliani than it is to former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who started the dust-up in the first place. Rudy's rivals quickly reminded reporters that yesterday's statement came from the Liberal Party nominee for mayor who backed Mario Cuomo over George Pataki for governor.