My operating theory of how Obama wins the nomination goes like this:
Hillary has the early lead based on name ID. But the more voters realize there are alternatives, the more they'll stray from Hillary. Since she has no room to grow (her negatives are huge), she has but one way to go -- down. And as she erodes support, and as other candidates gain on her, her support will crash as her cobbled-together old-school coalition turns on itself.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has moved to a double-digit lead over her closest Democratic presidential rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), according to a USAToday/Gallup poll released on Monday [...]
Polling data showed Clinton leading Obama 39 percent to 26 percent in a Democratic primary race that does not include former Vice President Al Gore. With Gore in the match-up, Clinton leads Obama 33 percent to 21 percent.
An earlier USAToday/Gallup survey conducted June 1-3 had put Obama 1 percentage point ahead of Clinton, at 30 percent to 29 percent.
So is Hillary running away with this thing? Let's look back to 2004 Gallup polling for some perspective.
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And get this -- Lieberman was actually slightly up from May, and up from 15 percent in March.
Let's fast forward all the way to August:
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Wow. But then Labor Day happened, and people started "paying attention". Then look at what happened:
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The whole field was shuffled around. Lieberman never recovered.
Now you want to be blown away? Look at the numbers before, then after Iowa (January 19) and New Hampshire (January 27):
Dean 26 14
Clark 20 9
Kerry 9 49
Lieberman 9 5
Edwards 7 13
Gephardt 7 n/a
Being a blogger has been on-the-job training for me. I was obsessive about the presidential polls in 2003. Then, as you see above, they meant squat. Kerry had 9 percent heading into Iowa. He won the thing easily. I learned my lesson.
These months are an opportunity for candidates to raise money, build organization, hone their message, and prep for the storm that'll hit them in September when they'll enter the stretch run of the race. At this point, the numbers mean little, and candidates have little incentive to lead the horse race.
As for those national polls, will they be as irrelevant this cycle as in 2004? Perhaps. We have a de facto national primary this year, so they may be a bit more relevant. Or maybe the country will bend its will to Iowa and New Hampshire again, as they did four years ago.
These are uncharted waters. But one thing's for sure, those national polls are currently predictive of nothing (though not useless, since they help drive fundraising and media coverage).
So will my Obama/Hillary theory hold? We still have a while to go before we can find out.