Hillary, Rudy Facing Toughest Times Of All?

Those of who follow political campaigns often can't discern turning points until the campaigns are over. The 2008 contest may be no different. But just now there's a sense of ferment in both parties' presidential contests--and it's happening awfully close to the Jan 3 kickoff of the nomination process in Iowa.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's subpar debate performance was followed Barack Obama's strong speech at the Iowa Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner last weekend. The former First Lady is essentially tied with Obama and John Edwards in Iowa, where a Clinton defeat could dramatically alter the Democratic race.

The same is true among Republicans. Rudy Giuliani received a welcome endorsement last week from televangelist Pat Robertson, wacky as Robertson sometimes appears. And he maintains a national lead in the WSJ-NBC poll.

But Mitt Romney has now pulled ahead in one poll in South Carolina: an ominous development for Giuliani given Romney's continued leads in Iowa and New Hampshire as well. The indictment of Giuliani associate Bernard Kerik, and now allegations by Kerik's former paramour Judith Regan in a lawsuit, bring new attention on some of the messy details in Giuliani's personal life.

It won't be long before the advertising bullets from rivals start to fly against Giuliani over his support for abortion rights--a stance directly at odds with the most passionate priority of many conservative Christian Republicans.

The outcome of neither race is pre-ordained. Clinton and Giuliani may well win their parties' nominations and face off next November--a matchup that was widely anticipated but failed to materialize in her 2000 Senate race. But both of them could also lose, and they are entering their period of maximum peril right now.