POST-IOWA MUSINGS….I know it’s hard to fairly evaluate the fortunes of candidates you favor, but even so I want to offer a contrarian take on how Wes Clark’s chances were affected by the Iowa caucus results.

(Besides, he’s the only one that it’s fun to talk about. Kerry and Edwards obviously got a boost and Dean obviously got whacked. Clark is the only major candidate whose fortunes are murky enough to be worth speculating about.)

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Clark suffered badly: he needed a Dean/Clark matchup in New Hampshire, and now he’s got to compete with Kerry and Edwards for the anti-Dean vote.

But there were only two possibilities to begin with: (a) Dean wins Iowa, in which case he comes into New Hampshire with huge momentum, or (b) he loses Iowa. I think scenario A would have been deadly, especially given Dean’s organizational and fundraising lead, but mathematically there’s no way for Scenario B to happen without other candidates gaining ground.

So which would you rather have, an unbeatable looking Howard Dean or a group of three candidates who are all formidable but not unstoppable? I have to go with Scenario B.

Besides, it’s worth noting that Kerry and Edwards have big problems ahead: they have limited fundraising ability compared to Dean and Clark and they have very little support in the primaries following New Hampshire. As you can see at this graphically engaging site, both Edwards and Kerry are polling around 5% or so in the half dozen primaries after New Hampshire.

All this could change, of course, and let’s face it: nobody really knows what’s going on this year. Still, the primaries are scheduled so thick and fast that even with a boost from Iowa it’s going to be hard for Kerry and Edwards to turn those poll numbers around in time to make a difference.

One more note: if you’re a believer in conventional wisdom, here’s an apropos piece: except for Bill Clinton, no Democrat in the last 30 years has won the nomination without first winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. If that holds true this year, the race is now between Kerry and whoever wins New Hampshire.