Hillary must have seen some internal polls that don’t look so good, or perhaps she heard of some back room deal for shifts in support between other candidates as second choices. Whatever she knows, she’s preparing the world for her to finish 3rd in Iowa. It’s Embarrassment Prevention 101.

As the presidential candidates engage in furious pre-caucus spin, one of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Iowa supporters said Wednesday that she’s already accomplished what she needs to in Iowa and can declare success even if she finishes in third place.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack told ABC News that Clinton has shown that she can appeal to a wide swath of Democrats, which is what she came to Iowa to do.

“She has done what she needed to do here,” Vilsack said shortly before a Clinton campaign event in Indianola. “When she started the process she was way behind — it’s now by all standards a competitive race.”

Asked if the order of finish matters, Vilsack deflected the question.

“She absolutely had to be competitive, and she’s accomplished that,” he said. “Obviously, everybody’s interested in winning, and I think we’re going to do well. It’s tight. There’s no question about that.”

That this is coming from Vilsack is telling: He’s only the former governor and most prominent local Hillary supporter. But the thing is, if this spin was an honest take, we would have heard more about it before now. On the GOP side, Giuliani has downplayed Iowa from day one, so no one expects him to do anything there. McCain downplayed it to, but not to the same extent so even a third place finish actually does look good for him.

But not for Hillary. Third place will look like a late collapse. Because that’s exactly what it’ll be. Such a finish won’t take her out of the race, but it will pop the “inEVITAble” balloon.