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The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

The most talked about sub­ject among Demo­cratic strate­gists here is Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­cline in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence polls in the face of grow­ing sup­port for her two chief ri­vals.

Poll­sters tell me her weak­ness in Iowa and New Hamp­shire is not only the re­sult of the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of for­mer North Carolina Sen. John Ed­wards and fresh­man Illi­nois Sen. Barack Obama, but a deep­en­ing an­tipa­thy to­ward her among Demo­crat­i­clean­ing in­de­pen­dents who dis­like her sup­port for the war in Iraq and who ques­tion her electabil­ity.

“I think Hil­lary strikes th­ese vot­ers the same way Sen. John Kerry did in 2004. They would re­ally like to vote for some­one they re­ally like this time. Hil­lary doesn’t fit that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion right now,” said poll­ster Del Ali of Re­search 2000, who con­ducted the Iowa and New Hamp­shire sur­veys.

His find­ings mir­ror a drop in na­tional sup­port for the lib­eral New York sen­a­tor, other poll­sters tell me. “There’s been ero­sion,” said in­de­pen­dent poll­ster John Zogby. “She’s polling in the low- to mid40s na­tion­ally.”

The num­bers as­ton­ished a num­ber of party vet­er­ans who saw her as the undis­puted front-run­ner fac­ing the pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. But she came in a dis­tant fourth in the Dec. 18-20 Iowa poll of 600 likely vot­ers, draw­ing a mere 10 per­cent in an in­creas­ingly crowded field of Demo­cratic con­tenders.

No­tably, Mr. Ed­wards, the Democrats’ 2004 vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, and Mr. Obama were tied in first place with 22 per­cent each, fol­lowed by out­go­ing Iowa Gov. Tom Vil­sack with 12 per­cent.

In New Hamp­shire, whose early Jan­uary 2008 pri­mary fol­lows the Iowa cau­cuses, the Re­search 2000 poll showed Mrs. Clin­ton locked in a dead heat with Mr. Obama, who was greeted like a rock star in a whirl­wind se­ries of stand­ing-roomonly ap­pear­ances across the state last month.

In this poll late last month, Mrs. Clin­ton and Mr. Obama drew 22 per­cent and 21 per­cent re­spec­tively, fol­lowed by Mr. Ed­wards with 16 per­cent. It was a sharp comedown for the for­mer first lady. Just one month be­fore, Mr. Obama was trail­ing her by 23 points.

What caused this pre­cip­i­tous ero­sion in Hil­lary’s sup­port in a piv­otal pri­mary state that is a must-win in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics?

Mr. Ali, who in­ter­viewed 600 likely vot­ers there, said the state’s elec­torate was made up of “a lot of in­de­pen­dents. Th­ese are the same peo­ple who loathe Pres­i­dent Bush, loathe the Iraq war. But deep down, they don’t like Hil­lary Clin­ton,” he told the Con­cord Mon­i­tor.

In an in­ter­view two weeks ago, Mr. Ali told me, “Her chief ri­vals are very much against the Iraq war and pre­fer that we be­gin with­drawal. I don’t think they trust her, to be hon­est with you.”

“Part of the rea­son is that among the can­di­dates, she seems the most sup­port­ive of the war in Iraq and ap­pears less crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Bush than the other can­di­dates,” he said.

Mrs. Clin­ton, re­port­edly plan­ning to an­nounce her can­di­dacy later this month, has yet to cam­paign in New Hamp­shire, and Democrats in the state say they ex­pect her poll num­bers to im­prove once she be­gins ac­tive cam­paign­ing. “You can­not un­der­es­ti­mate Sen. Clin­ton. She is well-known, has the abil­ity to raise a lot of money and has a great spouse, Bill Clin­ton. who will be sup­port­ing and ad­vis­ing her,” said Jim De­mers, a long­time party oper­a­tive in the state.

But Mr. De­mers, who said he in­tends to sup­port and work for Mr. Obama if he runs, pointed to one lit­tle-no­ticed de­vel­op­ment that fur­ther fed the po­lit­i­cal buzz in the party about Hil­lary’s weak­nesses.

“In pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial pri­mary cy­cles many can­di­dates had com­mit­ted sup­port from some big­name politi­cians. Usu­ally a year in ad­vance, they have big names on their team. This year, 99 per­cent of the ac­tivists are un­com­mit­ted and wait­ing. That’s un­usual,” Mr. De­mers told me.

That the big names have not come out in fa­vor of Mrs. Clin­ton at this point speaks vol­umes about her can­di­dacy, other Democrats told me. They are wait­ing for her to come into the state to mea­sure her mes­sage against the oth­ers, es­pe­cially against Mr. Obama who elec­tri­fied au­di­ences with his skills as an or­a­tor — a tal­ent Mrs. Clin­ton, a dry, unin­spir­ing speaker, lacks.

Iraq looms large in this en­vi­ron­ment. But Mrs. Clin­ton’s sup­port for the war and her pub­lic op­po­si­tion to de­mands through­out her party for a speedy with­drawal have clearly hurt her with many rankand-file Democrats. This is­sue cat­a­pulted Howard Dean to the front of the pack early in the 2003-04 cy­cle “and that con­cern has in­ten­si­fied here over the past two years,” es­pe­cially since Mr. Bush de­cided to send in more troops, Mr. De­mers said.

Mrs. Clin­ton was in Iraq over the Jan. 13-14 week­end, talk­ing to the troops and telling them that any crit­i­cism of the war did not lessen sup­port for what they are do­ing there. But she is seen by the party’s dom­i­nant an­ti­war crowd as a de­fender of the war ef­fort and that is in­creas­ing sup­port for the an­ti­war mes­sages heard from Mr. Ed­wards and Mr. Obama.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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