New polls out show Hillary, Edwards, and Obama in a dead heat in Iowa. Meanwhile, national polls consistently show Hillary way ahead and Obama slipping, with Edwards a distant third.
Here's the thing.
The national polls don't matter. We don't have a national primary. The only polls that actually matter are those in the early primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Of those, the poll that really matters the most is Iowa. Edwards has been running in Iowa since before the 2004 election ended, and has built up a huge campaign operation there.
This is, of course, a double-edged sword for Edwards. He has built up huge expectations for himself in Iowa, so much so that if he doesn't absolutely win Iowa, he's likely finished. However, if he does win Iowa, it will give him credibility and momentum to propel him into New Hampshire and the rest of the early primary states. That momentum may just doom Hillary and Obama to oblivion. Like in 2004, I believe that Democrats will rally around the winner of the early primary states and we will have a de facto nominee before the end of February.
My other theory about how this is all going to go down is that Hillary and Obama are going to claw each other to death, and Edwards will then come out as the reasonable alternative. I've had this theory ever since the media crowned the two of them as "front-runners." Being a front-runner this early in the game is a very dangerous thing - see Dean vs. High Expectations, 2004. In Iowa, Dean and Gephardt clawed each other to death and allowed Kerry and Edwards to rise to the top of the heap. And the atmosphere was such that Democrats were desperate to rally around a candidate, to such an extent that after Iowa, the race was absolutely over. Of course, Dean's barbaric yawp didn't help, nor did his scattershot ground campaign, which opened money-losing campaign offices in places like Tulsa where we sat there day in and day out and maybe talked to a dozen voters - but the scream in particular was way overhyped by a media that is always looking for a sensational story.
All of this is to say that I really do see the possibility of a similar thing happening in '08 between Obama and Hillary, which would give Edwards the edge he needs to leapfrog into the lead.
In the general election, I still think Edwards is the only candidate with a shot in hell at beating Giuliani (the only Republican candidate worth worrying about). Edwards will undercut Giuliani's Republican base and appeal to poor white Southerners who are alienated by Giuliani's support of abortion and gay rights and crossdressing and divorcing lots of wives. These voters might feel that Edwards, with his thick Southern drawl, commitment to labor rights and poverty elimination, and his deep-seated religious convictions, has more in common with them. An Edwards vs. Giuliani race will produce a very weird map, but I believe Edwards will win.