Ben Smith at The Politico has a nice graph showing how the top 3 Democratic presidential candidates have been doing in the polls for the last quarter. What you see is some upward movement on the parts of Edwards and Obama along with some flagging on Clinton's part, but for the most part they're all staying pretty steady, with Hillary way ahead.
Now people are saying that Hillary's still leading only because it's so early and nobody knows the other candidates blah blah blah. But is that true? Can we really say that a significant number of people in this country do not know who Barack Obama is? Others will say that Obama and Edwards are just splitting the anti-Hillary vote, and when one of them jumps ship, the other one will overtake Clinton. One problem with this theory: according to a recent poll I saw (and of course, now can't find) Hillary is the 2nd choice candidate for both Edwards and Obama supporters.
Again: for supporters of Edwards and Obama, the favored 2nd choice candidate is not the other anti-Hillary, but Hillary herself.
How can this be? How can Obama supporters be more comfortable voting for Hillary than for Edwards, and vice versa? How can Hillary Clinton, who is not charismatic, not inspiring, has a broad reputation for being cold and calculating and a serial panderer, who surrounds herself with unionbusters and corporate hacks, who voted for the Iraq War and chose as her signature issues violent video games and flag burning, be not only winning in the polls but be the favorite 2nd choice as well when there are 2 charismatic, inspiring idealists in the race?
When you have Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson in the race, what possible motivation could there be for picking Hillary Clinton?
I've been wracking my brain about this for several months, since it became clear to me that the explanations above don't cut it, and I've at least come up with a hypothesis.
Hillary Clinton is the safe candidate.
Here's what I mean: Clinton has a decent amount of experience, at least over Obama and Edwards. She can raise money by the boatload. She's well-connected. She's built her entire campaign on specific solutions for the problems at hand in pretty minute detail (or so goes the perception, anyway).
She's also got some of the qualities found pathetically lacking in the Current Occupant: she's got at least one popular, trusted, experienced advisor by her side already (the former president), and she's seen as intelligent, patient, and politically savvy. She's almost everything President Bush is not, and say what you will about her possible vulnerability to corruption and "small" solutions, there's no question in most people's mind that she would make fewer mistakes than the Commander Guy.
If all you want is someone who will stop f**king everything up and pissing all over our allies, put competent people in charge, and take a cautious, don't-rock-the-boat approach to being the Chief Executive, then I can see how you would be drawn to Clinton. If you want someone with big ideas and big solutions, who wants to tackle big problems, she's probably about the last candidate you'll want in the Oval Office.
This thesis, you may note, doesn't tackle the issue her being the fav 2nd choice. I honestly don't see how you could look honestly at all 3 candidates and have Hillary as your second choice, seeing as Obama and Edwards are so alike and would draw so many of the same people (everyone I know who's a Democrat that pays close attention to politics, for instance, is vacillating between Obama and Edwards, with an occasional nod to Richardson or Dodd; Clinton is out of the question for pretty much all of them). Could it be that Obama's and Edwards' supporters have so antagonized the other side that they'd rather hand the whole thing to Hillary and let the other have a crack at it? Is it that Obamans don't really know anything about Edwards, and Edwardians haven't paid any attention to Obama, so that to them there are only 2 candidates really in the race, their own and Hillary? Perhaps both?