The date for the New Hampshire primary has finally been locked in: January 8.

That’s five days after the Iowa caucuses.

So, in less than 50 days, the two contests that are most likely to define the 2008 presidential competition will be done.

And no one really knows where we are headed.

The Democratic race in Iowa is essentially a three-way tie, with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards competing within margins of error for the lead.

The Republican race in Iowa is even closer, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee essentially tied.

In New Hampshire, Clinton and Romney have clearer leads. But Clinton’s slipping and Romney is stalled.

In both the first-primary and first-caucus states, former front-runners are falling behind supposed also-rans. Huckabee has moved into the top tier in Iowa, if not yet in New Hampshire. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only serious anti-war contender on the Republican side, is now tied with Arizona Senator John McCain in Iowa. Paul is ahead of Huckabee and the soon-to-be-forgotten Fred Thompson in New Hampshire.

The more dramatic story of a front-runner’s slide may actually be on the Democratic side. In Iowa, it appears that Edwards has settled into third place. He still in that margin of error, but on the low end. And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is now in double digits in Iowa, and rising as Edwards falls.

It’s even worse for Edwards in New Hampshire. Richardson trails the North Carolinian by just one point in the latest polling, and the trajectory for Edwards is down while the trajectory for Richardson is up.

Just as Huckabee has moved into first-tier competition, at least in Iowa, so Richardson could be moving toward the first tier in New Hampshire. Huckabee’s rise has already done damage to the credibility of the McCain and Thompson campaigns, and could yet dent Romney’s run.

If Richardson moves ahead of Edwards in New Hampshire, it will be a serious blow to the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.