Horse race: Clinton's lead evaporates in IA, NH and SC

Maybe it’s the Oprah factor. Or the fact that Hillary is a bad candidate. Or the fact that the Clinton campaign dug through Obama’s school records looking for dirt. Or that whatever else you can say about his politics, Obama is just more likable than Hillary. Whatever it is, and it may be some combination of all of the above, Hillary has a race on her hands.

Iowa: Clinton nabbed 27%, followed by Obama at 25% and Edwards at 21%. No other candidate scored double-digits, including Richardson who came in at 9% and Joe Biden who rec’d 5%. As for the all-important second-choice category, all three Dem frontrunners are tied, with 30% picking Obama, 29% naming Clinton and 27% selecting Edwards.

New Hampshire: This is the tightest result for any New Hampshire Dem primary poll this year. Clinton gets 30% to Obama’s 27%. Edwards barely cracks double-digits with 10%, with one in five primary voters undecided.

South Carolina: Clinton gets 28% to Obama’s 25%. Edwards is a competitive third at 18%. [Note: An earlier version of this post accidentally reprinted the results from N.H.]

None of those leads is outside the margin of error, so Obama may actually lead in one or more of those states. And tellingly:

— Bill Clinton is still VERY popular among Democrats, in most cases, more popular than all of the actual contenders, though Obama matches the FPOTUS in FAV rating in New Hampshire.

Bill’s popularity may not be helping Hillary, and his Elvis factor may be transferring to Obama. The Democrats’ cult-like hero worship has to go somewhere.

I’m not saying that just to be snarky. The fact is, the two most experienced Democrats in the race are Dodd and Biden. Neither stands a chance of winning the nomination. The race on the Democrats’ side is dominated more by dynasty and personality than by experience and by demonstrated wisdom. The same can’t be said (yet) of the GOP side, where you have two governors and a former NYC mayor leading the pack and one of the two governors has also led successful businesses and chaired the Olympics. Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani all have their problems, but at least they all have serious executive experience on their resumes.

By the way, yet another Hillary campaigner is leaving after spreading the Obama/Muslim rumor. Were there only two Hillary hacks flogging that rumor, or were there more? What did Hillary know and when did she know it?

Update (AP): Hillary’s problem in a nutshell:

Obama, [the focus group] worried, can’t win the nomination; voters aren’t ready for an African-American president (a point expressed most directly by the two black women participants), and he may not be sufficiently experienced.

A couple of victories in Iowa and New Hampshire would cure most of those problems.

The concerns about Clinton, 60, a New York senator, are that she is devious, calculating and, fairly or not, a divisive figure in American politics.

Those are a lot tougher to overcome.

It was revealing, too, when Hart pushed them to envision these senators as leaders of the country or, as he put it, their “boss.” Obama, they say, would be inspirational, motivating, charismatic and compassionate. After praising Clinton’s experience and intelligence, they say she would be demanding, difficult, maybe even a little scary.

Update: Meanwhile, to Team Hillary’s chagrin Obama launches the SS Oprah. Is it a killer weapon or a bucket of bolts? I wouldn’t bet on the latter if I were on the Hillary campaign.

More: In the post above I forgot to mention that Bill Richardson is also more experienced than Clinton and Obama. What does it say about his candidacy, though, that political junkies like me tend to forget that he’s still in the race?