The 2016 presidential election is shaping up as another close race, like the last four. From 2000 to 2012, both major parties' nominees received between 45 and 53 percent of the vote.
Historically, that's a narrow range, not seen since 1880-1892. It suggests something close to parity between two highly competitive parties.
Polls for the 2016 race, however, suggest strikingly different results. One would be a nightmare for Republicans. The other would be a nightmare for Democrats.
This column looks at the Republicans' nightmare (a later column will examine the Democrats' nightmare). In this scenario, the Democratic nominee is, as widely expected, Hillary Clinton.
The assumption is that she encounters no significant turbulence in winning the nomination -- a plausible extrapolation from current polling, which shows her miles ahead of any other Democrat.
Straight-line extrapolations from current general election polling also look very good for her.
Against various possible Republican opponents -- in alphabetical order, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan -- Clinton is averaging between 50 and 52 percent in the RealClearPolitics averages of recent polls, while the Republicans are averaging between 38 and 42 percent.
Due allowance should be made for the fact that none of these Republicans is well known nationally. It's reasonable to expect that a Republican nominee will run better if he puts on a competent campaign.
But Clinton is doing something in these polls that Democratic House candidates and, to a lesser extent, Democratic Senate candidates are having a hard time doing: running ahead of President Obama's job approval rating.
That rating currently stands at 44 percent, well below Clinton's 51 percent average in national polls.
Clinton runs ahead of Obama though she too must be considered a supporter of the unpopular Obamacare. His current negative ratings on foreign policy don't seem to hurt her, perhaps because he was getting positive ratings on that during his first term, when she was secretary of State.
It seems that Clinton's standing reflects less current judgments on Obama and more on rosy retrospective ratings of the presidency of Bill Clinton. Voters may not be eager for a third Obama term, but might like a third Clinton term.