HANDICAPPING….I don’t do a lot of minute-by-minute tracking of poll results here ? partly because I think you lose perspective by paying too much attention to this stuff and partly because other people do it better than me anyway ? but if you’re interested in politics it’s hard not to be pretty riveted by what’s going on right now.

In Iowa, Zogby claims that Dean’s lead has evaporated and that Kerry is leading with 24% of the vote. Dean and Gephardt each have 19% and Edwards has 17%.

And in New Hampshire the ARG tracking poll has Dean’s lead narrowed to 28% vs. 23% for Clark (Kerry is third with 16%).

So is Dean really in trouble? I think he might be, especially since my instinct has long been that Dean doesn’t wear very well among non-true believers and that his support would start to falter as he got more exposure. (On the other hand, I never thought that Kerry would manage to do very well either, so take my instincts with a grain of salt.)

At a broad level, fundraising prowess and national poll results still make me think this is a Dean/Clark race, but it might eventually get trickier than that. I hate to bring this up again, since even I admit it’s an old chestnut that never pans out, but these poll results sure make a brokered convention look more likely, don’t they?

Regardless of how he does in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean has a ton of money and isn’t going away. There’s no way he ends up the primary season with less than 30-40% of the delegates. But if Kerry and Gephardt get enough votes in Iowa to stay alive and keep the money rolling in, they could each easily end up with 10-15% of the delegates even if they basically end up doing poorly. And Clark, who has a lot of appeal in places where Dean doesn’t, along with proven fundraising prowess, is very likely to either beat Dean outright or else stay very close on his heels. Here’s what I could very easily see happening:

  • Dean: 35%

  • Clark: 30%

  • Kerry: 15%

  • Gephardt: 10%

  • Others: 10%

This still doesn’t necessarily mean a literally brokered convention, but it could mean that in the end the difference comes from who Kerry and Gephardt throw their endorsement to when they eventually drop out of the race. There’s enough bad blood between those two and Dean that it’s hard to see them endorsing him, but I don’t know how they feel about Clark either.

This is turning into quite a thrill ride.

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