The new year is here, and the first "real" voting of this seemingly interminable year of election campaigning is upon us. As we know, the actual delegates selected in Iowa and New Hampshire are irrelevant in and of themselves. What matters is the impact of the votes in these two states on voters in the other states to follow.
Right now on the Democratic side of the ledger, Hillary Clinton is in the lead nationally. The latest review of polling in Iowa suggests that she is at best tied with Barack Obama and John Edwards. In New Hampshire, the latest USA Today/Gallup poll (and other polling that has followed) shows that she is tied with Obama.
That means that when we come up for air on Jan. 9 -- after Iowa and New Hampshire voters have had their say -- we could be staring at a "Hillary Sweep" of both, a "Hillary Wins One but Loses Another" scenario, or a "Hillary Goes Down in Defeat in Both" outcome.
The key question, again: What will be the impact of any of these scenarios on the national numbers? If it's the latter scenario, would Hillary bite the dust nationally?
On the GOP side of the ledger, things are more complex. Rudy Giuliani led in the final USA Today/Gallup national poll taken before the holidays. But Giuliani is not expected to win either Iowa or New Hampshire.
So the key question is the impact of a double Giuliani loss on his national standing when the dust settles on Jan. 9. Plus, of course, if Mitt Romney -- for example -- wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, will that vault him to the head of the GOP class, as his handlers think it will? What about Mike Huckabee? Would a Huckabee win in Iowa followed by a loss in New Hampshire do anything special for his national standing? And what about John McCain? If he loses in Iowa and then wins in New Hampshire, would he move up sharply in the national numbers?