OPINION: Look For Organized Effort to Gang Up on Clinton

Hillary Clinton is complaining about the boys piling on. Piling on? She ain't seen nothin' yet.

Right now, most of her opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination are each taking pot shots at her, trying to slow her campaign. She leads in all the national polls, though not by very much in polls of Iowa caucus-goers.

That means the boys have figured out they need to derail the lady here if they want to keep her from breaking out. And, she figures she can quickly roll up the nomination in Iowa if she stomps the boys here.

Which is why they're all pouring it on in Iowa.

She didn't weather their attacks too well in the last debate and has dropped a few points in the national polls. Thus emboldened, the boys will be noodling up other ways to dip her pigtails in the printer.

One way they can do it is by throwing in together. A majority of caucus-goers still aren't for her. If they all coalesce around one of the boys, she loses.

Here's how it will work: On caucus night, Democratic rules require a candidate to have support from at least 15 percent of the total number of caucus-goers in a precinct if that candidate wants to win any delegates. Candidates who don't have 15 percent are declared "not viable," and their supporters must move to another candidate - or form a group that does have at least 15 percent.

In 2004, a version of that happened when many Dennis Kucinich people rallied behind John Edwards in those precincts where Kucinich wasn't viable, which was most of them. It was enough to boost Edwards into a second-place Iowa finish.

We can look at the Register's Iowa Poll for an example of how this might work in 2008. In October, the poll found Clinton at 29 percent, John Edwards at 23 percent, Barack Obama at 22 percent, Bill Richardson at 8 percent, Joe Biden with 5 percent. Dennis Kucinich at 1 percent and Chris Dodd at 1 percent. There were 11 percent who weren't sure or who were uncommitted.

If the whole state of Iowa were one big caucus, that would mean Richardson, Biden, Kucinich, Dodd and the uncommitteds would be declared "not viable," and their supporters would have to realign with one of the three camps that was - or form a fourth preference group with more than 15 percent.

Edwards will be a good rallying point. He's seen as having little depth in later primary states, so if Clinton's foes rally around him - the way the Kucinich people did in 2004 - he could win. That would slow her down but not leave him in a position to start rolling up wins elsewhere. That would keep hope alive for the other men in the race.

(Rallying around Obama might start a brush fire for him that couldn't be stopped.)

But, wait. There are other dynamics. Bill Richardson is being very nice to Clinton in these debates. Most figure it's because he wants to be her vice president. He could give her some real help by not playing this game and by asking his supporters to rally around her. Now she's at 37 percent. Secretary of State Joe Biden's people would get her to 42 percent.

Of course, all this assumes the caucus-goers would follow the dictates of some private deal cut elsewhere. They won't. They have minds of their own, and that's where it is useful to look at the second choices they express to pollsters.

I asked Register pollster Ann Selzer to reallocate the second choices of those candidates who didn't have 15 percent. She found Obama gains 4 percentage points, Clinton picks up 3 points, Edwards wins 2 more, and the uncommitteds gain 6.

That means our statewide Iowa caucus would now have Clinton winning with 32 percent, Obama in second with 26, Edwards in third with 25 percent apiece and 17 percent uncommitted.

Clinton would still win Iowa. And that's still the scenario the boys can't allow to have happen.

So in a few weeks, maybe during the day on Jan. 3, look for them to join in cahoots to find the ABH candidate - anybody but Hillary.