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2008 presidential victory scenarios

/ Source: National Journal

The first hints of third-quarter fundraising figures for the presidential campaigns have leaked out, something that will dominate political talk over the next few days.

Some campaigns will be crowing about their fundraising prowess while others will be spinning that the numbers are deceptive -- that things are actually better than they appear. Conventional wisdom has all but awarded New York Sen. the Democratic nomination, and it is true that she is a very strong, though not quite prohibitive, favorite.

If Clinton were to win Iowa, she would be all but unstoppable as she already is looking very strong in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.

At this stage, the Iowa contest is a very competitive, three-way affair between Clinton, former Sen. , D-N.C., and Sen. , D-Ill. Clinton might be the only candidate who could lose Iowa and either New Hampshire or South Carolina and not necessarily be mortally wounded. Her rivals do not appear to have sufficient strength to survive such a blow.

However, losing all three would knock her out.

Edwards has to win in Iowa. Even a second-place finish would probably send Edwards to the showers. He has little national infrastructure and his decision to accept federal matching funds, a sure sign that fundraising has not gone well, would severely limit his ability to capitalize on a victory in Iowa.

Clinton or Obama would be able to dwarf his spending in subsequent states, very likely dooming his prospects even with a breakthrough Iowa win. In short, Edwards is now a longer shot than ever before, even with his competitive numbers in Iowa.

The Obama campaign is touting a recent Newsweek poll, conducted Sept. 26 and 27, that places their man ahead among likely Democratic Iowa caucus attendees.

It should be noted, though, that the poll showed Obama at 28 percent, Clinton at 24 percent and Edwards at 22 percent, so the top three are all within the 7-point error margin. Obama has the resources and infrastructure to capitalize on a victory in Iowa. A win there would likely make this an even-money race with Clinton, but he would still need to run the table to win.

New Mexico Gov. is not surging as dramatically as he was before, although he is still moving up. The only realistic scenario for Richardson is that either Obama or Edwards finishes ahead of Clinton in Iowa, then the Iowa victor loses in New Hampshire and Richardson manages to come in either second or third place in each. This is a very long shot, but theoretically it's possible.

On the GOP side, former Massachusetts Gov. would have to win a trifecta of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries to put this nomination away. Romney is running strong in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He would need to win both, and then beat former New York City Mayor in South Carolina to show that he can beat anyone, anywhere.

This isn't to say that Romney has to win all three to win the nomination, only to score an early knockout.

Romney's strong campaign operation and his ability to reach deeply into his own personal finances give him a staying power once February comes and the battleground spreads across the country.

While it's certainly possible that Giuliani could survive Romney winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, it would help him a lot if Romney stumbled in one of the first two states. The assumption that a cultural moderate like Giuliani cannot win a GOP nomination doesn't take into consideration conservative support that is split four or more ways. This might create an opening for a Republican with an implausible pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control and pro-gay rights record.

Who said 2008 had to be a normal year? Once the riffraff is cleared out of the GOP contest, and the race comes down to, say, Romney and Giuliani, is a Rudy win possible?

If the alternative is a Republican whose positions once mirrored Giuliani's, but who then converted to social conservatism, what happens then?

Clearly there is no history, no template, for this kind of contest. All of this is predicated on Giuliani winning at least one out of the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina trio, then hoping that his broader appeal helps as the campaign goes on the road.

Giuliani has clearly performed much better than expected, but whether he can derail Romney, whose strength is built on early efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire, remains to be seen.

There is no question that Republicans yearn for the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, and some thought they saw that in former Tennessee Sen. .

But once Thompson and his campaign belatedly arrived on the scene, they seemed not ready for primetime, and they do not have much time to improve.

If there is any chance for Thompson, and that is debatable, it starts in South Carolina. Even then, the question remains whether he can draw sufficient votes outside the South to remain viable.