John Edwards, pushing back against the sense that the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is over before it begins, tells the Associated Press: "I lived through the inevitability of Howard Dean."
It's a good line -- hats off to President Dewey while we're at it -- and the underlying point is well taken: Not a single Democratic primary or caucus voter has cast a vote yet, and a lot can happen between now and then.
At the same time, it's not unreasonable to note that Democrats who aren't named Clinton have a taller mountain to climb than most Democratic candidates did at this point in the 2004 race. In the latest Associated Press/Ipsos poll, Clinton gets the support of 42 percent of Democrats nationwide, enough to giver her a 20-point lead over Barack Obama and a 33-point lead over Edwards. By way of comparison, a national CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken in early October 2003 showed Wes Clark leading the Democratic field, but only barely. With the support of 18 percent of the Democrats polled, Clark was ahead of Dean and Joe Lieberman by just five points each and John Kerry by seven. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken at about the same time had the race even closer: All of four percentage points divided the top four Democratic presidential contenders.
Dean's support grew through the end of 2003, but his support among Democrats nationwide maxed out at 31 percent in the Gallup poll. Clinton is already 11 points better than that in the AP/Ipsos poll and 22 points better in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll.
The good news for Edwards? The Democratic presidential race is much closer today in Iowa than it appears to be nationwide. The bad news for Edwards? The latest Iowa poll has him slipping there -- and, at the moment, New Hampshire is looking a lot like the rest of America.
And one more bit from the "This Won't Help" Department: Edwards worked hard to win an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union, but the group said Monday that it won't be making a nationwide endorsement. Instead, it will leave individual state groups free to endorse and campaign for whomever they wish. The Edwards campaign is calling that a "victory" on the ground that it can now "mobilize support" from SEIU members and units on the state level. Maybe that's right, but it's not quite the same thing as the big-bang "victory" that a full-on SEIU endorsement would have delivered.