We have only a few more days to await the verdict of the people of Iowa. I admit to being put off by our emphasis on early contests in two small and unrepresentative states. They wouldn't matter if we said that it didn't.
What I find interesting this morning is the divide between the preferences of Republicans and Democrats and the head to head match-ups. The aggregation of polls at Real Clear Politics shows that two candidates who generally run poorly in national partisan samples are the strongest general election that either party could field: John McCain and John Edwards.
BY RCP average, McCain beats Clinton, ties Obama and loses to Edwards. All other GOP candidates, on average, lose to all three Democrats. Clinton and Obama beat everyone but McCain and Edwards beats all GOP challengers.
I don't presume that this is the final word on these matters and the difference between Obama and Edwards is rather slim. (Obama does a little better against Giuliani), but look at the national partisan polling. Clinton still has a huge lead on Obama and Edwards runs a very poor third. McCain runs a closer third, but he is still third.
It's easy to see an Obama nomination but less so for Edwards. He's doing well in Iowa but nowhere else. I don't see how anything other than a clear win in Iowa breaks the Obama/Clinton dynamic.
On the GOP side, McCain is not in Iowa and is in striking distance of Romney in New Hampshire. It seems like he has to hope for a Huckabee embarrassment of Romney in Iowa (maybe coupled with a surprisingly strong third place finish for him) and wins in New Hampshire and Michigan that make it a Giuliani-McCain race. The idea would have to be that the social conservatives unite behind him and that he undercuts Giuliani's advantage on national security.
Two problems with this scenario: Does McCain have the money and has he irritated GOP regulars with his perceived pandering to the media in a way that cannot be forgiven?
If he does, there is the possibility of two intriguing general election matchups. One would be intergenerational. John McCain is 25 years older than Barak Obama. (He is almost exactly my mother's age!) Will we elect a guy who will be 72 on Inauguration Day?
The Clinton-Dole race, to me, reflected the fact that we are just a tad youth obsessed here.
On the other hand, one of Obama's weaknesses is his lack of experience. The guy is three years out of the Illinois legislature. Are we really going to make him the most powerful leader on Earth? That strikes me as less than serious.
Just as intriguing - maybe more so - is a Clinton-McCain matchup. McCain is not a boomer but he stands in for one side of the sixties divide over Viet Nam and the values of the counterculture. Hilary was on the other. How are we going to react to fighting that war again?