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If, for example, Edwards wins Iowa and Obama comes second, it would be very easy to see Edwards surging and Clinton slumping, and given the short period of time between Iowa and New Hampshire, for New Hampshire to be Obama, then Edwards, then Clinton.
Now, that Iowa result is by no means unlikely, given the most recent (post Christmas holiday) polling showing Edwards in a dead heat, since he has long had stronger second preferences and his best strength in rural precincts, which gives added leverage in a caucus state. And Senator Obama seems to not be too far from John Edwards in second preferences, while Senator Clinton seems to lag well behind.
And if that pair of results happened, Clinton would be in deep, deep trouble, because her framing has been in terms of the inevitability of her nomination and so she has attracted a lot of bandwagon supporters. And once they start jumping ship, that creates an impression of further downward slide, without any substantial framing that she can use to reverse it.
Of course, she had not had any reason to be worried about the fact that her framing was dependent on early successes, because she always had New Hampshire as the circuit breaker in case she came in second in Iowa. But two third place finishes, and she could go into free fall.
Of course, if she finishes second in Iowa and first in New Hampshire, swapping first place with John Edwards, Obama may fade, with the nomination effectively decided in South Carolina. That would likely be the best result (short of an Iowa victory) for her, since a fading Obama campaign would place her in a strong position in SC.
And then, based on those three results, there will either be a confirmation of current national polls, or a complete and total shake up ... because current national polls are dominated by people who are in places where the majority of likely primary voters simply that do not start paying attention until the Iowa caucus results come out.
In scenario one, there is a fight between Obama and Edwards going into Feb. 5th, complicated by the fact that even a fading Clinton campaign will pull 20% of the vote on the 5th ... and in scenario two, you have the common scenario of a nominee presumptive and one challenger left standing, until the victories turn out to be too few and far between and the challenger bows out.
And of course, if Edwards finishes third in Iowa, he is effectively finished in both NH and SC and therefore his early state strategy short circuits at the first event. And then if Obama wins NH, we are in a horse race going into Feb 5 between Obama and Clinton.
The only candidate that can in effect lock it up with two early wins is Senator Clinton, so any assessment would have to place her on the inside running ... but even if she is a 50:50 chance to win the nomination, she is certainly not the 75:25 chance that the pundits had her at just two short months ago.
I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
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