It seems that Sen. Barack Obama’s quest to become the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee has hit quite a snag over the past month. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, Obama trails Hillary Clinton by 22 points; 46%-24%.Obama also trails Clinton by ten in the Diageo/Hotline Poll, by 15 in the most recent FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. His best showing was earlier this month in the Gallup Poll where he only trailed Clinton by 9.

The state polls are just as bad, if not worse, for Obama. A group of American Research Group state wide polls Have Obama running third in each state. In Iowa he gets 11% of the vote. In New Hampshire, he gets 15%, and in South Carolina he has 11%. However, a Zogby poll released on May 17 had Obama within 2 points of Clinton. New state polls have Obama 8 points behind Clinton in South Carolina, 29 points behind her in New York, and 20 points behind Clinton in Pennsylvania. Obama trails both Edwards and Clinton in Iowa and North Carolina.

It is still very early, but it appears that Obama has lost his momentum. I can think of a few reasons for his recent stumbles. The biggest reason is that Clinton dominates the power structure in the Democratic Party. It is Hillary who is piling up the big name endorsements in each state. It is Hillary who has the best fundraisers, and all of the Party contacts. The Clintons are intimately familiar with the levers of power in the Democratic Party, and they are not afraid to pull them. Obama believes that he can rely on a grass roots movement of ordinary people, to offset this, but it  is here where he runs into his second problem.

John Edwards has been developing his grass roots organization since the end of his 2004 vice presidential campaign. Edwards is also the only battle tested national campaigner on the Democratic side. For two years, he has been positioning himself as liberal alternative to Hillary. Edwards doesn’t have to vote in the Senate anymore. Thus, he is free to campaign all the time. Edwards has passed Obama in the early states because he is able to be there all the time. This has allowed him to slowly move up the state polls, and start to make a case for his being the alternative to Hillary.

Obama’s biggest problem though is that he is not as experienced as his two main rivals for the nomination. Clinton has been able to steal much of Obama’s thunder by unveiling health care and energy plans that are similar to her main rival. The two have even started to vote the same way on major issues in the Senate. Obama has to find a way to distinguish himself from Hillary. When you add in that he looked average during the first Democratic debate, and he hasn’t been impressive on the campaign trail, it makes sense that he has been unable to overtake Clinton. The good news for Obama is that a good performance in Sunday night’s debate will go a long way to help, right the ship, but Obama needs to win early primaries to get the momentum to defeat Clinton. If he struggles in the early votes, his campaign could be over by February 6, 2008.

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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