Nevertheless, he continued, the tone for all those primaries and caucuses will be set in Iowa, where he says he is deeply unimpressed with Mrs. Clinton’s performance.
“The number that I pay attention to more than anything else is her number,” said Mr. Hildebrand. “For all that Bill and Hillary Clinton have meant to Democratic primary voters, she is getting one-fourth of the vote. By all accounts the incumbent in this race, the people have the highest expectations and the most knowledge about her, and she only has one-fourth of the vote in Iowa.”
The campaign’s plan is straightforward. As John Edwards’ support continues to erode, Mr. Obama will pick up Edwards supporters and build momentum against Mrs. Clinton.
“John Edwards is a fresher candidate, like Barack is, and they hold similar positions on special interest groups and lobbyists and those kind of change traditions,” said Mr. Hildebrand. “He is a candidate of change much like Barack Obama is, so I’m hopeful that if voters begin to walk away from Edwards, and we don’t know that they are going to, but if they do, they will take a very hard look at Barack and come on board with us.
“What happens if all the impressions are that it is inevitable that she is going to win, and then she loses Iowa?” Mr. Hildebrand said. “What happens then?”
It’s become a familiar theme from Mr. Obama’s handlers.
Talking at an Obama rally in Washington Square Park last week, Robert Gibbs, the campaign’s communications director, suggested that the media was misinterpreting the early Clinton lead as something newsworthy.
“I don’t think the media is so good at understanding either how to win a campaign or a primary or an election,” said Mr. Gibbs. “Look, there is no doubt that she has had the most formidable political machine; they’ve built it for 20 years. She is going to lead in the national polls for many more months now. None of that to me is even remotely surprising.”
And he echoed his campaign colleagues in emphasizing Mr. Obama’s competitiveness in Iowa, and his long-term strategy.
“I’ll tell you why everybody’s calm,” said Mr. Gibbs. “They have never elected a nominee in October and September. Our campaign has never been set up to win the nomination in September and October. It has always been geared to win the nomination in January and February when real people go vote.”
But if the campaign is calm, some of its key supporters are growing less so by the day.
“Many of us expected the gap to close more quickly,” said Marilyn Katz, an Obama donor and political consultant based in Chicago. She said the message that the campaign is pushing in private meetings and conference calls is “don’t be confused” by the national polls. She expressed confidence in the campaign but acknowledged that the current conventional wisdom has caused a “dislocated anxiety in the campaign.”
“I don’t think there is panic,” she said. “But there is this sort of expectation that if you are a meteor you are going to stay in the sky, and it’s just not true and that’s just not how it is.”
Ms. Katz said she saw the logic in concentrating on the primary states to avoid full engagement with Mrs. Clinton and her daunting national infrastructure.
“This is the strategy they have chosen,” said Ms. Katz, adding, “Would I do it exactly the same way? No.”