Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has consolidated her place as the front-runner in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, outpacing her main rivals in fundraising in the most recent quarter and widening her lead in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
For the first time, Clinton (N.Y.) is drawing support from a majority of Democrats -- and has opened up a lead of 33 percentage points over Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Her popularity, the poll suggests, is being driven by her strength on key issues and a growing perception among voters that she would best represent change.
The new numbers come on the heels of an aggressive push by Clinton to dominate the political landscape. She unveiled her health-care proposal and then appeared on all five Sunday news shows on the same day -- all while her husband, former president Bill Clinton, went on tour to promote a new book. Within the past month, at least one Clinton has appeared on television virtually every day, increasing the campaign's exposure among millions of Americans.
Yesterday, her campaign announced that it had topped Obama for the first time in a fundraising period, taking in $22 million in the past three months in funds that can be used for the primary campaign, to Obama's $19 million.
When all funds raised in the period were included, Clinton raised a total of $27 million in the quarter and Obama took in $20 million. While Obama topped her performance in the first two fundraising periods this year, the two are virtually even in the amount they have raised for the primaries, with Obama bringing in about $75 million for the nominating contests and Clinton about $72.5 million.
Even with the avalanche of publicity the Clintons have received, the Post-ABC News poll suggests that there is more than name recognition at work.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 53 percent support Clinton, compared with 20 percent for Obama and 13 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.).
Despite rivals' efforts to portray her as too polarizing to win the general election, a clear majority of those surveyed, 57 percent, said Clinton is the Democratic candidate with the best chance on Nov. 4, 2008. The percentage saying Clinton has the best shot at winning is up 14 points since June. By contrast, 20 percent think Edwards is most electable and 16 percent think Obama is, numbers that represent a huge blow to the "electability" argument rivals have sought to use against her.
One of the central claims of Obama's campaign is that he is best suited to lower partisan tensions in Washington. But, in this poll, more see Clinton as best able to reduce partisanship.
Here's something that made me think: The article noted a major publicity blitz by both Hillary and Bill Clinton last week (Hillary appeared on all the Sunday talk shows and Bill made the rounds promoting a new book). This in turn reminded me of the discussion early this year of Hillary's ramrod-like presidential campaign machine, composed of fierce loyalists with much more discipline than that found among the top aides in the Bill Clinton White House:
Bill Clinton ran a loose and leaky ship during his two White House terms, and many in his old brain trust who are expected to return to the fold for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign now have careers to tend and outside interests to promote.
By contrast, "Hillaryland" is a disciplined structure of her own design, a tight-knit realm populated by discreet, fiercely devoted aides who have been with the former first lady since her East Wing days, along with newer additions who serve on her Senate staff. Some wonder if her circle is too buffered.
Buffered or not, Hillary Clinton's emergence as the odds-on nominee poses tremendous electoral challenges to the Republicans, who look to be facing a less decisive nomination process, and thus a delayed party rally behind the eventual general election candidate.
It's also worth thinking about the prospects of Hillary as president. Some in the GOP have essentially conceded 2008 to the Democrats, and if Hillary retains her momentum through November 2008, she'll bring a degree of experience to the top rungs of power rarely seen in the history of the presidency.