Hillary Clinton has truly emerged as the candidate to beat. Aided by the mistakes by her opponents, steady--if uninspiring--debate performances, and a lift from Bill as "Salesman-in-Chief", Hillary has secured and lengthened her lead. The promising Barak Obama, crusading John Edwards, likable Bill Richardson, nor any of the others appear to have enough to stop her march to nomination.
As a result, Hillary seems more relaxed in her role as leading candidate and her "pro-people" message is getting through. Watch her first Iowa commercial in which she calmly and convincingly manages to: relate to average Iowans, while offering a devastating critique the Bush administration's social policies.
What's also interesting is that the ad is effective in making the claim that Hillary--and, therefore, not Edwards and Obama--is the true agent of change for the little guy.
THe results is that folks outside of the Clinton Camp are now talking about the inevitability of Hillary. Republican Karl Rove yesterday predicted a Hillary Clinton nomination. And Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris have done so as well. (Actually, these Republican predictions, along with Hillary's high negatives, worries many Democrats.)
Nonetheless, Edwards and Obama's challenge is now much greater. It's now not good enough to be the anti-Hillary; Democrats are comfortable with her as their standard bearer. Edwards, Obama and possible candidate Al Gore must now prove that he offers the party the best chance to 1) win the presidency and 2) enact a very pro-Democratic party agenda. A very high standard.
Unless something extraordinary happens to change the political context, the Democratic Party table appears set.