The fierce urgency of now

Is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Two words: Mike Huckabee.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 10, 2007 1:54PM (EST)

a) The presidential primary season has been going on forever.

b) The presidential primary season has not yet begun.

c) The presidential primary season is almost over.

It's Monday morning just four weeks out from when the voting starts -- three if you discount the nobody's-paying-attention days between Christmas and New Year's Day -- and the correct answer is all of the above.

The Iowa caucuses are on Jan. 3, and we'll probably know all of the answers by the time California finishes voting on Feb. 5. We don't know any of them right now.

Remember when Hillary vs. Rudy or Hillary vs. Mitt seemed like a lock? Here's NBC's Chuck Todd on the new MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon poll: "The only candidate in either party with a lead outside of the margin of error in the big three states (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) is Republican Mike Huckabee, who sports a double-digit lead over his nearest competitor [in Iowa]. No Democrat has a lead outside the margin of error in those three states and the Republican races in both New Hampshire and South Carolina are also margin-of-error close."

How close is it? This close:

Iowa Democrats: In the MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon poll, it's Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards at 27, 25 and 21 percent, respectively. Edwards' low number could be deceiving; with the highest favorability ratings of the top three Democrats, he could climb when caucusgoers start looking at second choices. In a new Newsweek poll, Clinton and Obama are essentially tied among all Democrats, but Obama takes a six-point lead among the likeliest caucusgoers.

Iowa Republicans: The MSNBC etc. poll has Huckabee at 32 percent, followed by Mitt Romney at 20 percent and Fred Thompson at 11 percent, with nobody else breaking double digits. Newsweek has Huckabee up an by astounding 22 points over Romney and by at least 29 points over everybody else.

New Hampshire Democrats: Clinton's Granite State "firewall" seems to be crumbling a bit. MSNBC has her at 30 percent, with Obama at 27 percent and Edwards at 11.

New Hampshire Republicans: In an MSNBC poll taken mostly before his "Faith in America" speech, Romney stands at 25 percent, followed by Rudy Giuliani at 17 percent -- well, hello, Mr. Mayor! -- then John McCain at 16 percent and Huckabee at 11 percent.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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