FOR MONTHS, Democrats have asked one another, "Is it over? Does Hillary Clinton have it wrapped up?" For months the answer was, probably. Not any more.
One night in Philadelphia. You could feel the inevitability slipping from Clinton the night of the Oct. 30 debate in Philadelphia, when she ducked and dodged on allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. Incredulous, her opponents on the stage pounced immediately.
She also disingenuously blamed the National Archives for not releasing White House correspondence between her and her husband. Locking up the private papers will give the Fox News-Rush Limbaugh-Ann Coulter smear team cheap fodder, while they defend the most criminally secretive White House in history, the one run by Dick Cheney.
Iowans at the gate. In the tight, three-way race in Iowa, only one non-Hillary will emerge, either Barack Obama or John Edwards. The gate keepers in Iowa will determine which Democrats go on. Iowa will be decisive.
New Hampshire's last dance. This may be the last time New Hampshire enjoys special status. Too many other states, with more delegates, more diversity, and more contributors are demanding to go earlier. Already, Nevada's caucuses sit between Iowa and New Hampshire. Both political parties have lost control of their primary calendars. And the tsunami of primaries on Feb. 5 foreshadows big changes in the calendar next time.
Stay put. The plan to move the Massachusetts presidential primary to Feb. 5 to make us more relevant is strange. We would join 20-plus other states on that day, including California, New York, and Illinois. We would stick out like a red shirt at a Red Sox game. We wouldn't get one candidate visit or one dollar of spending. Better to stay with March 4, along with Ohio, Texas, and Vermont, and hope the race hasn't been decided.
Shrinkage. After running a much-admired, bloodless, Brinks truck of a campaign, Hillary's lead is shrinking. Because Bill is the Clinton who Democrats love, her campaign sent him out to spank her primary opponents. He went overboard, warning that they were making Democrats "vulnerable to a Swift-boat kind of ad." If the shrinkage continues, Bill might get medieval on her critics. He does, after all, owe her.
Where's Obama been? For months, Obama has been Chinese food. He sounded good, but a half-hour later, I couldn't remember a thing he said. He's finally begun to get down to specifics. And he's finally criticizing Hillary Clinton by name.
His speech Saturday at Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner was widely praised. The Des Moines Register gushed, "His oratory was moving and he successfully contrasted himself with the others, especially Clinton, without being snide or nasty about it."
Obama jumped into the presidential race before he was ready. His weak grasp of policy nuance showed. His major political experience consisted of one US Senate race where both his primary and general election opponents self-destructed over marital problems. Consequently, he had to beat Alan Keyes, who parachuted in from Maryland. Yep, that Alan Keyes.
Friends of Rudy. The man who brags about his executive experience may be the worst judge of character in the presidential field. Rudy Giuliani's friend and business partner, Bernard Kerik, was indicted for lying, tax evasion, and taking money from an outfit with mob ties, a situation about which Giuliani had been briefed. Kerik was no ordinary mayoral appointee: Rudy asked him to be his campaign driver; helped him move through law enforcement ranks; named him New York City police chief; then tried to foist him off on the president as Homeland Security director.
Then there's the accused child molester, Monsignor Alan Placa, who admitted that he was implicated in a 2003 grand jury child abuse report but denied molesting children. The statute of limitations had expired. Placa was removed from his parish by the church. He now works at Giuliani Partners in New York.
Placa was best man at Giuliani's first wedding, helped Rudy get that marriage annulled, then married Rudy and his second wife - the one Rudy dumped at a press conference. The accused pedophile priest baptized both of Giuliani's children.
Don't get me started on the neoconservatives, the now-discredited pretentious windbags behind the war in Iraq. At least six neocons are advising Rudy, one of whom urged the president to launch a preemptive strike on Iran. The bombing begins in five minutes.
Watch it. The Democrats debate today in Las Vegas, (CNN, 8 p.m.). If Hillary has another bad night, what happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas.
Dan Payne is a Boston-based media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates in Massachusetts and around the country.