HILLARY AND RUDY….I’m with Atrios on this: I don’t think it’s surprising at all that Hillary Clinton trounced Rudy Giuliani in a recent poll in New York state. It’s sort of the flipside of my earlier argument about Hillary being stronger than many people think.

In Hillary’s case, my argument is that there are a lot of people who have vague, negative impressions of her from the 90s, and that these people are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see her for the first time in years and she turns out not to be a fire-breathing dragon after all. Maybe it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations, but it’s real nonetheless. She has nowhere to go but up.

Giuliani is just the opposite. The average voter has vague, positive impressions of Rudy thanks to his 9/11 heroics, and these people are going to be unpleasantly surprised when they see him for the first time in years and he turns out to be nastier than they remember (not to mention being freighted down by a closet full of skeletons they didn’t know about). He has nowhere to go but down.

New York demonstrates this dynamic pretty well. Name recognition isn’t an issue since both Clinton and Giuliani are well known there. And unlike the rest of the country, the average New Yorker has good, sharp recent memories of both candidates. The result? Clinton is better liked than in the rest of the country and Giuliani is less liked. The same thing is likely to happen when both candidates go national.

Anyway, that’s my take. I don’t think Giuliani has the faintest chance of winning a presidential contest in 2008, which is the reason I insisted a few days ago that the Republican field was so poor this cycle. Democrats, on the other hand, look pretty good.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: My track record on these kinds of predictions isn’t especially good. You have been warned.