Have we been here before? Clinton versus an insurgent
She was meant to have had a lock on the Democratic Party nomination, in a year that looked good for a Democratic presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton had the sort of star power few could hope to emulate, and she was one half of a couple who virtually embodied the term "power couple" in a party that was firmly in hoc to their machine. And then came Iowa, and an insurgency that proved to be her undoing. Barack Obama's soaring rhetoric and hope for change undid Hillary's hopes of breaking the glass ceiling for women in 2008.
And here she is again. Her machine is intact, her supporters well motivated, she's captured the endorsement of one of the country's leading liberal newspapers, the New York Times; yet once again this once impregnable candidate faces a grassroots insurgency that could de-rail her second attempt at the presidency.
Of course it's not quite the same as 2008. Hillary is a wiser person and a better candidate. Her debate performances - under-reported at a time when everyone is obsessing over the Donald's wrecking of the Republican debates - have been far sparkier and effective than before. Plus, she does have eight more years of hard won experience behind her, four of them as the former insurgent, Barack Obama's Secretary of State. Bernie, meanwhile, has mobilised extraordinary support, and could certainly provide an upset in Iowa before what looks like a big win in New Hampshire (bordering his own Vermont state). But Bernie can't match Obama's rhetoric, and he can motivate liberals but arguably not the mainstream who will there to be grabbed in the event of a very rightist Republican nomination.
It can, in fact, only be good for Clinton and the Democratic Party to have a race come much closer. It would not have benefited Clinton at all to go through a coronation before the rough passage of the main election in autumn. This way, she has to really hone her campaigning instincts, and she has to work out why so many Democrats and previously uncommitted voters are flocking to Bernie. This Washington Post piece, and the turning of a sceptic noted here by Cody Gough, shows why "the Bern" is whirling up such a wind, and Hillary would be foolish to discount this. She runs as an establishment candidate - her experience is a key selling point - at a time when many American voters seem dead set against that amorphous entity. Capture some of the Sanders insurgency and Hillary really could have a winning formula.
This BBC report brilliantly captures the difference between the Clinton and Sanders rallies in Iowa and in so doing points up much of the distinction between these two seasoned politicians.
Hillary is no shoo-in any more. Bernie Sanders has done the Democratic party a considerable service for that. Whether the Senator from Vermont can provide the political weight to balance the excitement of his campaign, against a candidate who has weight aplenty, will ultimately determine who really is the most credible candidate to go against what will likely be one of the most dangerous Republicans in over a generation. The Democrats should enjoy their primary season. But they need to get this choice right.