Clinton and the New Jersey inevitability question

Hillary Clinton's supporters have a dream. They see current Iowa frontrunnerBarack Obama limping into a shocking third place finish in the Jan. 3rd caucus and then standing before a crowd of youthful campaign volunteers with a hand-held microphone.

On a live television feed with the emotion in the room otherwise subdued bynews stationsound systems, they see Obama morphing into Howard Dean, and all of the coffee klatch support and Internet excitement andfield director organizingfor Obamain other subsequent primary states burning out like dried up prairie brush.

They see Clinton following up her victory in Iowa with wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida and locking up the Democratic Party nomination. Beyond its classic ATM machine status for political campaigns, New Jerseywon't be relevant in such a scenario, as Clinton collects what her campaign supporters see as an inevitable victory here on the way to Denver.

Butassuming Obama fails to deliver a gift Iowa implosion to Clinton, the question remains whether strong party backing and fundraising muscle in New Jerseycan contribute toa victory for Clinton even under the worst of circumstances for the New York senatorwhen she heads into the Garden State's Feb. 5th primary.

A Quinnipiac University poll released this past week still shows Clinton blowing out Obama among registered Democratic voters in New Jersey: 52% to 17%, with Edwards in third placeat 7%, and 12% of the voters in the undecided column. Some political experts believe given her geographical proximity and current standing in the polls, Clinton will be safe here regardless of what happens in the early primaries.

"I think it was a nice idea to move us up in the primary process (along withmore than 20 states also holding primaries on the same date)," said Dr. Joseph Marbach, professor of political science at Seton Hall University."But we have a favorite son and a favorite daughter here in Giuliani and Clinton. They're going to win the state. My sense is they've developed the infrastructure within the counties.Clinton's polling numbers put her up by 30-40 points."

Clay F. Richard, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in explanation of the poll he conducted, "New Jersey voters know the girl and boy next door, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and apparently are sticking with them. There's no Oprah bump in Sen. Barack Obama's numbers…"

But Dr. Joseph Patten, professor of political philosophy at Monmouth University, does not believe the numbers are set by any means,and says that if Obamawins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton supporters will begin to change their allegiance, andClinton will no longer enjoy invincibility status in New Jersey.

"She's stumbling," Patten said of Clinton. "The numbers are shifting dramatically in Iowa. Hillary Clinton had a 22 point leadthere and then in a matter of a few weeks, it became a dead heat. There is great volatility in the early states.

"What we'll see is New Jersey reacting to what happens in Michigan and South Carolina, and those states will have reacted to Iowa and New Hampshire," Patten added."The culture changes with each race."

It's not a lock that the winner in Iowaor New Hampshire goes on to win the nomination.

Since 1960,in 12separate elections, the Democratic Party winner of the New Hampshire primary has gone on to become the party's nominee oneight occasions. Since 1972, when the Iowa caucus came to prominence, the Democratic Party winner of that caucuswent on to be the nominee five times out of nine elections.

But since 1976, the Democratic winner of bothcontests went on to win the party's nomination.

Coming off ofa Clinton fundraiser this past Wednesday in which the campaign countered Oprah in Iowa with Tony Bennett in New Jersey, state fundraising Campaign Co-Chair John Graham says even if Obama gets an early boost and Clinton loses Iowa and New Hampshire, Clintoncan stillwin the nomination – and will.

"AfterMichigan, Nevada and South Carolina, you head to Florida (on Jan. 29th)," said the New Jersey politico. "Now, Hillary will win Florida. You're talking about senior citizen voters down there. Seniors want to hear about who's going to improve their quality of life. Seniors want to hear that social security is going to be saved now, not 25 years from now. As long as their healthcare is under threat, they don't want to hear a vision about something."

Graham said he is convinced Clinton's support in South Carolina is likewise not superficial. African American voters, who constitute half of the South Carolina electorate, will remain committed to Clinton even if Obama performs well in the north country, he maintains. But key to victory in Graham's eyesis gender, and he said women will vote for his candidate convincingly enough inthe states between New Hampshire andFeb. 5thto give Clinton a comfortable edgecomingintoNew Jersey.

While the official Barack Obama campaign officially opened its West Orange office earlier this month, NJ for Obama, a grassroots movement, has been operating and building support for Obama in New Jersey since February. The Clinton people like to point out that some of the organizers for Obama are warmed over Howard Dean supporters, whose feel-good grassroots efforts ultimately won't make much of a statement.

But the Obama people revel in the knoweldge that in 2004 Dean also enjoyed the support of much of the state's poltical power structure, which joined Gov. Jim McGreevey in endorsing Dean, then found itself scrambling into line behind the Iowa/New Hampshire victor, Sen. John Kerry, the party's eventual nominee.

Obama State Campaign Director Mark Alexander this week liked the fact that his team submitted nearly 2,000 more signatures than Team Clinton to the state Democratic Committee to register Obama on the New Jersey primary ballot. "This is another sign of our organizational breadth and strength throughout the state," Alexander said.

Graham said he likes Obama but suggests that the candidate would be even stronger for a future presidential run if he loses the 2008 nomination. In any case,the Clinton fundraising co-chairseemed resigned to the possibility of Obama not stumbling, and to what State Party Chairman Joseph Cryan called the ebb and flow of the campaign.

"The presswants a fight," said Graham. "That's all right. That's healthy. I don't want a coronation."

Clinton and the New Jersey inevitability question