The 2008 Race Rankings: The Democrats

Each week, NBC News political director Chuck "Chuck" Todd and I present our rankings on the likely order of finish for the presidential candidates.

For our first Democratic ranking of the second quarter, we're dividing the candidates this week into four separate tiers -- front-runners, second-tierers, solid long shots and the rest of the field.

These rankings are ordered by likelihood of winning the Democratic Party primary and are based on a number of factors, including organization, money, buzz and polling. Click here for Republican rankings.

1. Hillary Clinton -- Last Ranking: 1 -- We shy away from reading too much into any single metric, but there has to be some reason why Barack Obama is raising more money than the Clinton machine. There is a hunger in the Democratic base for a Clinton alternative, a hunger that Clinton herself cannot ignore without repercussions. It was hard to tell whether the large Iowa crowds that cheered the Clintons last week were there because they got to see Bill. One political upside: If you listened carefully, you could tell that Bill Clinton was making the argument, wherever he went, that Obama wasn't qualified to be president. Allowing Bill Clinton to make that argument instead of Hillary puts Obama in a bit of a bind; challenging the former president is a perilous proposition for any candidate, much less Obama. But is trotting out Bill the only way Hillary can make that argument?

2. Barack Obama -- Last Ranking: 2 -- The discipline demonstrated by Obama's inner circle regarding their second-quarter fundraising tallies paid off -- they said little and waited, and then received a well-earned booster shot of press coverage. Its afterglow will last for at least several weeks. Last week, Obama stumped in Iowa in front of (relatively) smaller audiences and didn't receive the celebrity greetings that he's used to. But he's grown more comfortable with the rigors of the campaign trail. On Tuesday he gave his best performance of the day in the evening after two long outdoor campaign events and about a dozen press interviews. His stamina held up nicely. One smart observer told us to check out how the crowd reacts to Obama when he begins shaking hands; there's a look in their eyes that no other candidate gets. Michelle Obama is also proving to be a natural on the campaign trail and a ferocious advocate for her husband. Over the next two months, watch to see whether Obama starts to make an explicit argument against Hillary Clinton.

3. No One -- Last Ranking: -- This is blank to denote a separation of tiers.

4. John Edwards -- Former North Carolina senator Last Ranking: 3 -- Yes, Joe Trippi seems to be consolidating power in the Edwards campaign. But there were more mundane reasons for some of the staff additions. For one thing, the campaign didn't exactly function like a modern campaign needs to function. It had a bevy of talented press folks and advisers but lacked a full-time communications director. David Bonior, as Edwards has admitted, is not a traditional campaign manager and never really took to the actual managing thing very much. Bringing in a day-to-day show-runner makes sense. So does the addition of a chief financial officer to keep tabs on spending. For now, Edwards is clearly at the top of the second tier and seems to have enough money to persevere. Plenty of Iowans still prefer him to Obama and Clinton. But he has a HUGE image problem thanks to the never-ending haircut story. It's silly on one hand, but still very revealing. Has any candidate ever won a nomination AFTER losing control of his image?

Continue reading our 2008 race rankings on National