Newswise — Even with polls showing her running neck-and-neck with Barack Obama in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton is acting and sounding like the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
And she is, says Rowan University's Larry Butler, author of Claiming the Mantle: How Presidential Nominations Are Won and Lost Before the Votes Are Cast.
"Barring self-destruction of Gary Hart-like proportions, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee," says Butler, chair of Rowan's political science department.
"Obama is gaining traction in Iowa, but that's just Iowa," he continues. "When you get to the nearly two dozen states holding nominating contests on February 5, Obama just can't compete. The Clintons have never campaigned in the Iowa caucuses, so it was always going to be her weakest state."
Clinton, says Butler, has a well-oiled political machine at the ready, one that has a strong infrastructure, is sound organizationally, and has already been able to raise close to $100 million.
Obama has raised over $80 million—a significant amount—but, says Butler, "I see no signs of organization beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. He's expected to win South Carolina on January 26. So if he doesn't, that really hurts him."
The Republican contest is much more competitive, and Butler says there is an outside chance that the candidates could battle it out all the way to the convention.
"It is really a two-candidate race between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, says Butler. But it's likely that Mike Huckabee will do well in Iowa, he adds.
"Iowa is a great state for him," Butler says. "A large percentage of the voters are religious conservatives."
The presidential nomination process—Iowans will go to the polls while most Americans are still recovering from the holiday season—is "incredibly front-loaded," Butler says. "Candidates who raise money, build a nationwide grass-roots organization, and manage the media effectively before the first votes are cast have a virtually insurmountable advantage against those who do not."
The two GOP front-runners, Giuliani and Romney, are taking different strategies to land the nomination, according to Butler. Giuliani is looking to build a "firewall" on Feb. 5, while Romney is seeking to build momentum throughout the primary season, as Jimmy Carter did to land the presidency in 1976, Butler says.
"But the two strategies are not working out as well as the candidates had hoped," he says. "Giuliani does not have the resources to make his firewall impenetrable, and the front-loaded calendar will make it difficult for Romney to capitalize on any momentum he gets from early victories."
Consequently, Butler says that, if neither one executes his strategy to perfection, the GOP nomination could actually be determined at the Republican National Convention in September in Minneapolis-St. Paul.