Senator Obama’s campaign received some good news today. Following what some had deemed a mediocre performance in Sunday’s New Hampshire debate, a newly released USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows Obama and Clinton to be “virtually tied” for the Democratic presidential nomination. Of all people, perhaps the most interesting take on these latest numbers came today from eclectic blogger (and fellow namesake) Andrew Sullivan:

Clinton has the base support that her name, her husband and her long record among the Democrats have earned her. But as a general election candidate, as someone who can appeal to independents and Republicans, as someone who can actually enlarge the Democrats – Obama is quite obviously the superior candidate. Do the Dems want to go forward and outward? Or backward and inward? That’s the choice they face between the Senator from Illinois and the Senator from New York.

I wrote something very similar a few months back, arguing that Obama/Clinton represented a bigger debate within the Democratic Party. During his appearance this past Sunday on Meet The Press, consultant and Clintonista James Carville predicted much of the same, and likewise hinted at some ground breaking Q2 numbers from Obama’s camp:

I think that if—I think that Senator Clinton is going to have to, as Mike said, address the future. I think she’s starting to do that. They, they—but, but, but she does things in a very methodical, thought out way. That’s her nature. She’s a, she’s a very precise person. Her campaign is, is a reflection of that. I think they got to be happy with where they are so far. But Obama keeps pushing the envelope. And I think when the second quarter fund-raising number comes out, it’s going—Obama’s number’s going to shock people. It’s going to be something that we’ve never seen before in American politics, if what I’m told by, by, by all sides is true.

If Carville and Sullivan (and Sullivan) are correct, than this race may have tightened up permanently between the two senators. But the question still remains, even if Obama can draw fresh faces into the Democratic Party, will it be enough to carry him over in the primary states? A similarly compelling candidate ran in 1984, one whose oratory skills and energy garnered him 3.5 million votes, and five primary wins.

One probably wouldn’t dare these days to compare Barack Obama to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But despite his controversial history, many are quick to forget the hype and energy generated by Jackson’s ’84 bid. Jackson attracted younger voters and more African-American voters to the Democratic ranks. If the polls and financial indicators are even remotely accurate, we can expect much bigger things from Barack Obama in 2008. He could grow the party, and were he to win the nomination, serve as the leader of arguably a new Democratic era.

This places the onus on him to perform well in places like New Hampshire and South Carolina. National polls are nice for the ego, and probably generate more donors to the cause, but they don’t necessarily reflect the state-by-state nature of the nomination process. With several states front loading their primaries, we may very well know the nominee by February 6. If Obama is meant to take his party forward and outward, this will be his first hurdle.