People often ask me who will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. I always answer without a trace of hesitation: "Hillary Clinton."
Usually they look stunned. Whether they are rabidly pro-Hillary or rabid Hillary-haters from the GOP side of the fence, it makes no difference. They all seem to be buying into the misguided notion that Sen. Clinton is so controversial that she is entirely unelectable.
Partly thanks to that belief, "Obama mania" is sweeping the nation via newspaper and magazine headlines, and television news shows.
Like it or don't like it, but trust me: Hillary will win the Democratic nomination.
For one thing, Obama is a red herring. Sure, it's a novel and refreshing concept that a highly appealing black man could leapfrog to the head of the Democratic ticket. But black is not the key color here, green is.
Barack Obama is too green behind the gills to be ready for the most-prime prime time of all, a presidential campaign. Already, news reports like a January 16 Washington Post article are dissecting Obama's record as a former Illinois state senator and calling it lacking. The bloom on the Obama rose will fade.
From the dispassionate perspective of public opinion polling, there's little historical evidence from past presidential candidacies by prominent black politicians to suggest that black voters will blindly follow black candidates purely out of racial loyalty.
Obama is clearly miles above the quality of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Even so, if current numbers and past patterns hold, the best Obama can hope for is to carve some of the black vote away from Sen. Clinton, and then hope that white liberals propel him to the nomination.
If Hillary Clinton weren't running, I'd give Obama's candidacy a far better chance of success. But with possibly substantial dark-horse candidacies from Democrats such as Bill Richardson and John Edwards pulling votes this way and that, Hillary's consistent candidacy and dedicated support base among voters make her the alpha in the pack. As the Democratic primary season approaches, her base will become more and more energetic.
Most analysts are missing a vital point. The vote is far enough away that many women who view themselves as political independents still have time to register as Democrats, or they will simply vote in the Democratic primary in states where party registration is not required.
Democratic Party caucuses may prove more problematic for Clinton -- or maybe not. It's in the world of caucuses that hard-core political junkies thrive. That means the old Bill and Hillary Clinton machine awaits, well-oiled and ready to rumble.
It's true that several Democratic contenders besides Hillary will pull more conservative voters to their side. Yet I would argue that there are too darn few "conservative" voters left to determine the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination.
That leads to the other half of the equation. Can Hillary Clinton defeat a Republican nominee and become president?
Yes, quite possibly. For one thing, the Bush administration has so crippled the Republican Party that any GOP nominee likely will be running with a huge millstone around his or her neck.
With that in mind, realize that if the liberal Obama wins the Democratic nomination by beating the first truly viable woman presidential candidate in history, then even a wounded Republican nominee could probably win.
And no, a warmed-over Democratic nominee such as John Edwards likely wouldn't do the trick for his party.
But a woman would, if that woman is so well-known that polls show she draws considerable support from independent women. Hillary does.
And don't forget, we're talking about a Clinton. They're smart enough to know the value of a third-party candidate to shear off votes. If there's another Ross Perot out there, they'll find him.
The general election is so far off as to constitute a wild card from the perspective of now. Anything could happen.
But the Democratic nomination? Take it to the bank. It's Hillary.