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The Line: Conventional 'Wisdom'?

The past eight days have been enough to humble even the most confident of political pundits. Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primary produced two different winners from each party and left journalists, pollsters and political junkies wondering what comes next in this most unpredictable of presidential races.

2008 Presidential Candidates

Despite the failings of conventional wisdom over the past week or so, The Fix continues to believe there is wisdom in groups. So I was intrigued by the latest Political Insiders poll, conducted by National Journal.

Every week National Journal, a Fix alma mater, asks more than 80 insiders from each party their thoughts on the political issues of the day. This week the question put to the political experts was which candidate for the Republicans and Democrats was the most likely to win their respective party nominations. The results are fascinating.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain were the consensus choices. Sixty-three percent of Democrats surveyed by National Journal predicted Clinton would be the nominee while a whopping 80 percent of Republicans said the same. The results were more muddled on the Republican side, with 58 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of GOPers naming McCain as the most likely nominee. (Read the full results here.)

This survey of political pros is not scientific, and The Fix is not endorsing its results. But it provides a fascinating window into who the chattering class believes will remain standing at the end of what looks like long nomination fights for both parties.

Looking for more? Below you'll find The Fix's weekly presidential Line. The candidate write-ups are a little shorter than usual, as we've been writing about the '08 race non-stop for weeks. That means we want to hear more from you. Is the Line right or wrong? Why or why not? The comments section awaits the wisdom of The Fix's readers.

To the Line!

DEMOCRATS

3. John Edwards: Coming out of Iowa, it felt like Edwards had some momentum. After New Hampshire, it doesn't. Edwards finished a distant third in the Granite State, and his strategy of teaming up with Barack Obama against Clinton failed. Edwards has pledged to stay in the race through the convention ... and we believe him. But his chances of winning the nomination are severely diminished at this point. One thing The Fix is still trying to figure out about Edwards: Does his continued candidacy hurt Obama or Clinton more? (Previous ranking: 3)

1. (tie) Barack Obama: Yes, if Obama had won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, he would have opened up real distance between himself and Clinton. But, no, his loss does not diminish his long-term chances of winning the nomination. In the next two states to vote -- Nevada and South Carolina -- Obama starts off as the favorite against Clinton. His fundraising remains strong. Even some within Clinton's organization acknowledge that Obama has the better and broader campaign operations in the Feb. 5 states. That said, his loss in New Hampshire showed that for all the passion Obama invokes, emotion does not necessarily equal votes. (Previous ranking: 1)

1. (tie) Hillary Rodham Clinton: Wow. Add the New Hampshire primary win to the "it's always darkest before the dawn" folklore surrounding the Clintons. Heading into primary day, rumors of fundraising shortages and staff shake-ups were flying, and Clinton's campaign seemed demoralized. A few hours later, Clinton had stunningly seized the momentum from Obama. The question before Clinton is whether New Hampshire was an anomaly. Her willingness to open up to voters in the days between Iowa and New Hampshire seemed to broaden her appeal -- especially to women. Can Clinton keep it up? (Previous ranking: 2)

REPUBLICANS

5. Fred Thompson: The former Tennessee senator won last night's South Carolina debate with a combination of witty quips and convincing testimonies about his conservative credentials. But like everything for Thompson in this race, it seems too little too late. He still has a role to play in this race, but that role seems to be as a spoiler for Mike Huckabee in South Carolina. (Previous ranking: N/A)

4. Rudy Giuliani: The split results in Iowa and New Hampshire are good news for the former mayor of New York City, as is the potential of a win by Mitt Romney in Michigan and a competitive race in South Carolina. And yet, it feels like the race has left Giuliani behind. In last night's debate he struggled to find ways into the conversation -- symbolic of where he stands in the race right now. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the identity of the nominee, it appears as though Giuliani will get his chance to get back into the mix on Jan. 29 in Florida. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Mike Huckabee: South Carolina's primary next Saturday will determine whether Huckabee was a one-state phenomenon or a candidate with a legitimate chance at the nomination. Thompson's laser-like focus on Huckabee during last night's debate seems a sign of things to come, a development which could complicate Huckabee's attempts to turn South Carolina into a two-man race between him and McCain. Our question about Huckabee is whether he is able to define himself in South Carolina as the leading voice for social conservatives or whether his opponents -- Thompson in particular -- can define him as too liberal on issues like immigration and taxes. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Mitt Romney: Romney's entire game plan in this campaign was to win early and often. That hasn't happened so far. Losses in Iowa and New Hampshire are crippling to Romney's momentum strategy, no matter how many times the governor pronounces himself pleased with his two "silver medals." Despite all of that adversity, Romney remains potentially potent, but only if he can win his home state of Michigan next Tuesday. A victory would put Romney right back in the mix, and his personal wealth coupled with his demonstrated fundraising ability would make him dangerous heading into Feb. 5. Of course, if Romney loses in Michigan his campaign will be in dire straits. (Previous ranking: Tie-1)

1. John McCain: The last time the Arizona senator stood atop The Fix's presidential rankings was in late February 2007. During the intervening months, McCain dropped to as low as fifth, as his fundraising problems hamstrung his campaign and an exodus of senior staff left him with the barest of bare bones operations in place. And yet, somehow it was McCain delivering a triumphant victory speech after defying expectations and winning the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. McCain takes the No. 1 spot because he currently has the most paths to the nomination. He is the lone candidate competing in Michigan and South Carolina who could survive not winning in either state. But never forget that McCain still has problems with the base of the party and still needs to show he can consistently (e.g. outside of New Hampshire) win the votes of rank-and-file Republicans. (Previous ranking: Tie-1)

(Check out washingtonpost.com's delegate leader-board.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 11, 2008; 7:55 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , The Line  
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