The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hillary Clinton is the biggest frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination ever. Yes, ever.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's 61-point edge over Joe Biden in new Washington Post-ABC News polling makes her the single biggest frontrunner for a Democratic presidential nomination in the history of the poll, an affirmation of the conventional wisdom that the nomination is hers for the taking.

Clinton stands at an eye-popping 73 percent in a  hypothetical 2016 primary race with Biden, the sitting vice president, who is the only other candidate in double digits at 12 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has signed a letter along with a handful of other Democratic senators urging Clinton to run, is at 8 percent. And that's it.

That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question. At that time, Clinton took 39 percent to 17 percent for then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, 12 percent for 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards and 10 percent for former Vice President Al Gore.  Speaking of Gore, he is the closest thing to a Clinton-sized frontrunner dating all the way back to early polling on the 1984 presidential race. In a March 1999 poll, in advance of the 2000 presidential race, Gore took 58 percent to 21 percent for former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, a 37-point bulge.

On its face, these numbers are a massive boon for Clinton -- indicative of her status as the unquestioned and, at this point, unchallenged frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. It also proves a point we -- and many others -- have been making for quite some time now: Clinton is a much larger favorite to be the nominee at this point in the 2016 process than she was at this same time (or ever) in the 2008 contest. And, while the hypothetical 2008 matchup showed three candidates -- Obama, Edwards and Gore -- with real followings immune from Clinton's frontrunner status, there is no one out there in 2016 that can make the same claim.

While Obama could look at early 2008 polling and see a path to victory if he could consolidate all of the anti-Hillary votes behind him, that looks like a path to 20-ish percent in a primary fight against Clinton at the moment. Put simply: The opposition to the idea of her as the party's nominee that was clear and vocal in the runup to the 2008 race is simply nonexistent or, at best, too small to cause her any real agita. And, for any politician looking to take a flyer on challenging Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, these numbers will have a chilling effect on those ambitions.

If you are looking for a dark cloud in these numbers  -- and, to be honest, you really have to look -- it's that Clinton has nowhere to go but down.  Assuming some candidate -- Howard Dean? Martin O'Malley? -- decides to damn the torpedoes and challenge her, it's hard to imagine that Clinton wins every primary by 60 points (although she could). Given that the prospect of a serious challenge seems, at this point, laughable, any sort of decent showing by a challenger to Clinton will receive wall-to-wall coverage -- "Is it deja vu all over again for Hillary????" and so on and so forth -- that makes the race look a lot closer than it actually is.

It's that "nowhere to go but down" storyline that makes these poll numbers something short of all good news for the Clinton campaign-in-waiting. Still, being too big a presidential frontrunner is a problem that anyone else in politics would love to have.


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"Republicans make overtures to middle class in effort to counter Obama, Democrats" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Democrats: Cede the House to save the Senate" -- Alex Isenstadt, Politico

"Unpopularity of the House Could Turn Senate Races" -- Jonathan Weisman, New York Times