THE NOTE: Hillary Inevitable No More?

Clinton’s inevitability evaporates in Iowa, while Thompson fades away

ByABC News
November 20, 2007, 9:22 AM

Nov. 20, 2007 — -- About that inevitability thing . . . just kidding.

Barely 50 days before Iowa, it matters about as much as Dick Cheney's approval ratings, or Barry Bonds' contract situation, or Robert Novak's newest secret source.

Ladies and gentleman, we have ourselves a race.

Toss out the 30-point lead in the national polls, the fundraising edge, the long list of endorsements, the bold predictions of Terry McAuliffe, Mark Penn, even Bill Clinton himself.

The new ABC News/Washington Post poll has Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., up on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., in Iowa -- really in a statistical tie in the state where they could be playing for all the marbles. It's Obama 30, Clinton 26, and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., 22 -- setting up a three-way scramble for the top spot in a state that's notoriously difficult to call in advance.

The worrisome signs for Clinton aren't so much in Obama's movement (and her lack thereof) as they are inside the numbers.

"A growing focus on fresh ideas coupled with lingering doubts about Hillary Clinton's honesty and forthrightness are keeping the Democratic presidential contest close in Iowa," ABC polling director Gary Langer reports.

"Most Democratic likely voters in Iowa, 55 percent, say they're more interested in a 'new direction and new ideas' than in strength and experience, compared with 49 percent in July -- a help to Obama, who holds a substantial lead among 'new direction' voters," Langer continues.

The comparable number favoring "strength and experience" is 33 percent.

If Iowa isn't quite a must-win for all of the Democrats, it is a must-not-let-Hillary win for all who would presume to interrupt the Bush-Clinton-Bush chain.

"Iowa Democrats are tilting toward change, and Obama appears to be benefiting from it," the Post's Anne Kornblut and Jon Cohen write.

"While about three-quarters credited both Obama and Edwards with speaking their mind on issues, only 50 percent said Clinton is willing enough to say what she really thinks," they write.

And this sentence that matters to anyone who's been in a real-life caucus room: "In another positive shift for Obama, 55 percent now see him as their first or second choice, an important trend in a state where a person's second choice can matter and voters often switch their support at the last minute."

"There is something of anti-Hillary vote among [supporters of] all the other candidates," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America."

"This could really work for Barack Obama on Jan. 3."

You didn't have to look beyond Iowa on Monday to sense the urgency.

Clinton aides made clear that she had only one candidate in mind with this line on the stump in Iowa (and this hit's about the economy, not foreign policy): "There is one job we can't afford on-the-job training for: That is the job of our next president," Clinton said, ABC's Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller report. "That could be the costliest job training in history."

Maybe she has no choice but to press her experience at her husband's side; without it, as Obama aides like to point out, she's spent less time in elected office than Obama himself. But what happened to running on your own merits?

Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson counted Clinton referring to her husband's presidency at least 16 times in just over half an hour on Monday. The back-to-the-'90s theme is just a cheesy VH1 special if voters don't want to go there with her.

Obama isn't ready to concede experience to Clinton.

"My understanding was that she wasn't Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, so I don't know exactly what experiences she's claiming," he said Monday. Per The New York Times' Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, it's "the economy as a new proxy for their fight over experience" -- and Iowa is the battleground.

Tuesday brings some Clinton pushback against her Republican critics. (This is a primary campaign as general-election campaign -- and it's hard to miss the words "strength" and "experience" in this new TV ad.)

"Here they go again -- the same old Republican attack machine is back.

Why?" the announcer says in the new ad. "Maybe it's because they know that there's one candidate with the strength and experience to get us out of Iraq, one candidate who will end tax giveaways for the big corporations, one candidate committed to cutting the huge Republican deficit and one candidate who will put government back to work for the middle class."

It's Clinton's "first negative ad . . . hitting back at leading Republican hopefuls who in recent weeks have launched assaults at her over the airwaves," Kevin Landrigan reports in the Nashua Telegraph.

Clinton's battle with Obama is cast against the backdrop of the bizarre Novak item and its fallout (which prompted Obama to deny having done what he doesn't know he's being accused of doing, and the Clinton camp to accuse Obama of being naive to think he'd really been accused of doing anything at all).

Take a breath and listen to's John Fund's best guess on the damaging information the Clinton camp is said to be sitting on:

"The murmured charge is that as an Illinois state senator, Mr. Obama engaged in a real estate deal that benefited him in exchange for legislative favors." (Aren't we Rezko'd out yet? In any event, how about we stop murmuring until somebody producing something in the way of actual evidence?)

Speaking of what we don't know, ABC's Avni Patel and Marcus Baram report that the Clinton library's secret donor list hasn't been all that secret -- for the right price.

"The Clinton Foundation sold portions of the list through a data company headed by a longtime friend and donor," Patel and Baram write.

The firm that handled it? A subsidiary of Vin Gupta's InfoUSA.

Gupta's "ties to the Clintons came under scrutiny earlier in the year when a lawsuit filed by InfoUSA shareholders accused Gupta of wasting millions of dollars of the company's money to 'ingratiate himself' with the Clintons and other personal friends."

And forget the White House papers -- there's still no public access to Clinton's files from her time as first lady of Arkansas.

"Limited staff and delays in renovations for two new archives have prevented processing thousands of boxes of documents from the administrations of former Govs. Clinton and Mike Huckabee, including a handful of files on Mrs. Clinton," AP's Andrew DeMillo writes.

(Is it possible that the Clinton message machine isn't going to find a way out of this cycle of stories? Anyone think this is helping her claim on honesty, integrity, and openness?)