The Des Moines Register ran a poll this week which had some unexpected results(http://www.desmoinesregister.com/...). In case you missed it, Hillary Clinton came in second to John Edwards in a poll of Iowa Democrats, further weakening her aura of inevitability. It's clear that Hillary has already attained the status that doomed Dean in 2004. The media has labeled her too polarizing to win a general election, and Democrats are having serious doubts as a result. Democrats just want to win in 2008, and Hillary is too much of a gamble to make them happy. The question, then, is who will emerge as the consensus anti-Hillary?
Vilsack's polling is by far the most telling. Even in his own state, where his name recognition is very high, 90% of Iowa Democrats know they don't want Vilsack as the nominee. This removes any notion of a "home-field advantage" if he decides to run. Similarly, Kerry's numbers betray a weak future candidacy. Despite winning the nomination and receiving almost 40% of the vote in the 2004 caucus, Kerry is barely polling above single digits. Although he'll probably run, there's little hope for Kerry to improve his standing.
There's no doubt that this poll is at least temporary good news for Edwards. He hasn't been raising a whole lot of money for himself, and the poll may temporarily shore up his fundraising ability. Yet, Edwards should be the de facto nominee, having run for vice-president on an unsuccessful ticket. He's got the name recognition, and people seem to like him, but he's polling at a level lower than the support he got in 2004. The expectations will be high given Edwards' history in Iowa, and there's a lot of pressure for him to live up to them.
Feingold, who will likely run to the left of everyone, has attained a fairly significant level of name recognition, but is polling at 3%. Daschle and Clark face the same problem - even with moderate levels of name recognition, they're not polling at any level of noticeable support. It seems doubtful that any of these candidates will be able to mount a significant challenge with the numbers they're currently showing.
That leaves the two unknown commodities - Warner and Bayh. Each offers the Democrats support in a region they're not normally successful. They have virtually identical support, name recognition, and favorability levels. If anything, Bayh has a slight edge in the favorability department. That seems to be the case the more Bayh campaigns in Iowa; everywhere he goes people leave liking the guy, even if they're not ready to totally support him.
So where does this leave us? Well, the race is clearly much more wide open than many thought. Hillary is hardly a lock for the nomination, and this may be a test of whether she's up for a bloody primary fight. If I had to list my own "heavyweights" in this race, I would have to say Edwards, Hillary, Warner, and Bayh each have a shot of locking up the nomination - as the race stands today.
Given their levels of support and success in fundraising, I would put Edwards at 4, Hillary at 3, Warner at 2, and Bayh as the most likely. I think that given Kerry/Edwards' lack of success on foreign policy, Bayh's credentials as an executive and legislator will appeal to a lot of Democrats. Bayh has the potential to come out of nowhere, like Clinton in '92 and Carter in '76, to capture the nomination and take back the White House.