Meltdown or bump in the road?

Ed Morrissey captures the prevailing mode of both sides of the blogosphere and of the MSM when he asks whether “the wheels have come off for Hillary.” He cites Clinton’s “disaster of an answer” during the October 30 debate, along with the campaign’s criticism of Tim Russert in the following few days. He also points to recent revelations of question planting at a campaign event and a report by Matt Drudge that a Clinton “insider” has “warned” Wolf Blitzer not to attack Hillary’s character (do a “Russert”) in the upcoming debate. By the end of his piece Ed has convinced himself that “we’re getting close to a meltdown now.”
Are we? I doubt it. The debate answer and its immediate aftermath was a stumble for Hillary, but not a significant one. A Rasmussen poll taken between November 1-4 showed Clinton with 41 percent support among Democrats polled and a lead of 19 points over Obama. This was down significantly from a poll by Rasmussen a few weeks earlier (see link above for all polls cited here), but basically mirrored a poll by the same organization in early October in which Clinton was at 42 percent with a lead of 16 points. Moreover, by November 8-11 Rasmussen showed Clinton leading Obama by 23 points, though Edwards, in third place, had made a small move upward
Of the very recent developments, the so-called “warning” to Blitzer by an “insider”, if true, is surely inconsequential to anyone but the most plugged-in political junkie. The question-planting is more serious, and could hurt Clinton in Iowa, where the event occurred, and where voters (at least the relatively small number that shows up at the caucuses) are extremely well-informed. But beyond Iowa, it’s far from clear that this incident will have legs.
The dynamics of this race — Hillary’s gender, her aura of competence, the positive view most Democrats have of the Clinton years, the inexperience of Obama and the implausibility of Edwards, plus the fact that they split the anti-Hillary vote — make Clinton extremely tough to beat. That’s why she’s led so convincingly for so long. Nor is this a Howard Dean type situation. When Dean led, he was an unknown quantity, which was part of his temporary appeal. Hillary leads as an extraordinarily well-known quantity. Thus, it’s difficult to see a mass erosion of support.
There are, though, two potential dangers to Clinton. The first would be the demise of one of her two main male rivals. But that prospect seems more remote today than a month ago because Edwards has taken small advantage of Clinton’s debate stumble.
The second would be slippage in the head-to-head polls against Giuliani and other Republican contenders. Democrats already worry about Clinton’s electability, and her core female supporters do so most of all — they fear that America is too sexist to elect a woman. Thus, while Clinton’s recent false steps probably matter only slightly to Democratic voters, they may matter more to swing voters and their concern (if it manifests itself in polls) might, in turn, matter to Dems.
Nonetheless, I still regard Hillary as the prohibitive favorite. As John Podhoretz puts it, “If Mrs. Clinton turns in a good performance in the upcoming candidate debate on Thursday night, the storyline will inevitably change to ‘Hillary


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