The gloomy mist that has shrouded the US Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton throughout the winter was finally dispersed yesterday, when a new poll showed that she is significantly more popular than her rival, the Republican Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani.
The poll, conducted by CBS News and The New York Times, was the third in recent days indicating she has overtaken the mayor. It was the first in a year, however, to give her an edge beyond any statistical margin of error. It showed her drawing 49 per cent of voters over 41 per cent for Mr Giuliani.
With seven months until voting in November, the survey should not be granted too much significance. But it would seem to signal that this is a highly competitive race, which will create intense political heat as it progresses. For a year, polls had been showing Mrs Clinton lagging behind.
The details of the poll offer Mrs Clinton even greater encouragement. When undecided voters were pressured to say which way they were leaning, her lead was reinforced, with 52 per cent siding with her and 42 with Mr Giuliani. The mayor's approval rating has dropped to its lowest level in seven years.
Part of the change appears to stem from the continuous campaigning Mrs Clinton has undertaken over recent months in upstate New York. It is an area that Republican candidates have traditionally needed to win state office. Now the First Lady has drawn with Mr Giuliani in the region. Above all, the poll shows Mr Giulianisuffering because of his handling of allegations of policebrutality.
Voters appear to have been distressed especially by his response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Patrick Dorismond, in Manhattan last month. In what may have been a pivotal error straight after the shooting, Mayor Giuliani ordered the unsealing of a juvenile record that was on file for Mr Dorismond. This was seen by many as a callous attempt to smear the dead in order to defend the police department.
Critically, the issue that for so long has endeared Mayor Giuliani to voters - his mastery of crime reduction in New York City - seems now to be turning around to bite him. If he cannot reclaim crime as his territory in the race for the Senate, he could be finished.