Democrats Eye Iowa Electability

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks about her comprehensive plan to address America's energy and environmental challenges Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, at Clipper Windpower in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clinton called for creation of a $50 billion strategic energy fund coupled with higher fuel efficiency standards; the package, which she said was the most comprehensive effort to deal with global warming, would be financed in part by $20 billion in "green vehicle bonds."
It's exactly one year to the next election, but that's not the date that's on the mind of the Democratic frontrunner.

"New Year's Eve? Don't drink too much," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "Gotta be ready for the 3rd!"

That's January 3 - the Iowa caucuses - the first votes cast. Hillary Clinton's lead in the national polls is much smaller here - seven points - compared to New Hampshire, where she has a decisive lead. Iowa is the best chance for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards to stop her, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

"A big national poll doesn't mean anything," said Des Moines Register chief political writer David Yepsen. "It will evaporate overnight if somebody beats Hillary Clinton here."

The states in Iowa, coupled with Clinton's first stumbles in last week's debate, have injected a new intensity into the race.

Obama, running as an outsider and uniter, had been timid in his attacks. Not anymore.

"Yes, she's been running a textbook campaign," Obama said. "But it's a flawed textbook."

Edwards has been even sharper, taking on her votes for war in Iraq, and a recent resolution targeting Iran.

"She's voting like a hawk in Washington, but talking like a dove in Iowa and New Hampshire," Edwards said on the campaign trail.

Clinton, positioning herself as the candidate of experience, is trying to seem at ease with what will be eight more weeks of sniping.

"If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen," Clinton said.

Iraq, the economy, health care - all are important to democrats, but if Iowa is any indication, what matters more than anything is a candidate's electability.

"People don't go around with a checklist of issues. They look at candidates as individuals," Yepsen said. "Do they like them? Do they trust them? And that's an intangible that's hard to quantify."

This time four years ago, the eventual nominee John Kerry, was running sixth in Iowa. He came from way behind in the last few weeks.

When caucus-goers were asked why, they said, "simple. He was the most electable."

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.