THE NOTE: Evolve or Die

MANCHESTER, N.H. --

About that firewall . . . can somebody help us move it -- just by a few weeks?

If New Hampshire isn't quite lost yet for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., it sure looks like it's getting there. After months of witnessing her lead whittle, a series of new polls show her down substantially down post-Iowa, with late-breaking voters joining the party that look like more fun -- and that looks at this moment like it will end later.

The latest WMUR/CNN poll has Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., opening up a 39-29 lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, with Edwards grabbing 16 and Richardson 7. Obama even leads narrowly just among registered Democrats, and his 20-point edge among independents who plan to vote in the Democratic primary sets him up for what could be a wide margin of victory.

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His edge is even greater in the USA Today/Gallup Poll out Monday. Clinton strategist Mark Penn wanted to know where the bounce was, and Obama has found it: He is up 13 points in that poll, taken in the first three days after the Iowa caucuses.

This is a particularly worrisome sign for Camp Clinton: "Obama's victory in Iowa has cost Clinton the aura of electability," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "In December, Democrats here said by 47%-26% that she had the best chance of winning in November. Now, by 45%-34% Obama is favored on that point."

A roughly similar dynamic is playing out on the Republican side, where the longtime New Hampshire frontrunner, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is staying close but definitely lagging behind Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He's down four in the USA Today/Gallup Poll, and down six in the latest WMUR/CNN numbers.

Romney performed well in the final candidates' forum before New Hampshire, held Sunday night on Fox News Channel. But the exchanges didn't rock the race, and Romney is fiercely managing to recalibrate expectations even as he keeps up his pressure on McCain.

"This is a must-win state for [McCain]," Romney told Politico's Jonathan Martin and Jim VandeHei. Said the man who is (again) spending more money on TV ads than all of his opponents combined, in a state where he owns a vacation home and was governor in a shared media market: "If I can come in a close second, that also says something."

Beyond the fact that nobody will buy another silver as looking like a gold, Romney and Clinton have a similar coaching challenges: They desperately need to slow the clock, and they have no timeouts. Tuesday is their two-minute warning.

Clinton has a newly aggressive campaign tack -- hoping Obama's victory can be staved of by raising a blizzard of question, starting with his voting record, illegal robocalls, and Obama lobbyist/adviser Jim Demers. Her campaign makes valid points in each case, but does anyone think it's going to stop a tidal wave in the final 24 hours?

(She's also going door-to-door and answering plenty of questions now, too -- more than 30 at a single event in Hampton on Sunday, per ABC's Eloise Harper. And if you're a reporter who wants an interview, this may well be your chance.)

The best bet (and surely the hope) is that these efforts could have a cumulative effect by Feb. 5, where enough states vote to effectively settle everything. The calculation (perhaps all they have left): Things will get sane again on Wednesday, after the pace of voting subsides, and Democrats will get resist the notion that two states just chose a nominee in five days' time.

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