Anyone who thinks Barack Obama is a lock to win in South Carolina this weekend is fooling themselves.
This latest poll shows Obama with a sizeable lead -- 27 to 20 percent -- but also indicates that 36 percent of Democratic voters are undecided.
All of which points to the fact that Obama camp is, once again, terribly mismanaging the expectations game. As they did in both New Hampshire and Nevada, they're embracing the perception of front-runnerdom and doing nothing to guard themselves against defeat.
Look at what Clinton has done in each state: Essentially conceding defeat in the days before New Hampshire and Nevada. The tactic apparently has invigorated her supporters -- Hillary needs me! -- while at the same time both raising the stakes of a potential Obama defeat and buffering themselves against the possibility of a loss.
OK, maybe they really did believe they were going down in flames in New Hampshire. But in Nevada, despite late polls showing Clinton in first place, her camp predicted a five point loss to Obama. Obama did nothing to contest that expectation. So when she pops up with a six point victory it creates a perception of momentum out of what was really a status quo victory.
What's curious is that even if Obama does win this Saturday, it does him no good to pose as if that were the foregone conclusion heading into the contest. Indeed, it minimizes any bounce he's likely to get coming out of South Carolina.
Why not use the New Hampshire precedent to say the polls are phooey and that this is going to be a tight, tight contest? If he wins going away, he looks all the stronger.
As it stands, if Obama loses this weekend, he's in deep trouble.
Given the uncontested expectations created by a combination of his consistent lead in the polls and Hillary not even campaigning in the state, I'm not sure a loss in the Palmetto State is a blow he can recover from.