Republicans speak in wishful terms about Hillary winning the nomination and fearful ones about Obama overtaking her. "It'll be hard as hell to run against Obama," says the Republican strategist. The Illinois senator's negative ratings could be driven up in a general election, but "hope" is an elusive and risky target for attack. In Obama's favor, in the words of this strategist, is that he's "incredibly likable," that he has "iconic status," that "Americans would like to vote for an African-American" and that "he represents real change."
Elections can't be forecast with precision eight months out, of course. If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, it will be because of strengths not apparent in her lowest moments. And any Democrat has to be favored when 60 percent or more of the public disapproves of the Republican two-term incumbent's performance. As for Obama, he has the most liberal voting record in the Senate, according to the National Journal, and his lack of experience might matter to general-election voters in a way it hasn't among hope-hungry Democrats. If Obama has more electorate upside than Hillary, he also might have more downside risk.
But most Republicans don't want to find out. Obama may give inspiring speeches at campaign events thronged by thousands, but for Republicans, there's only one candidate of hope: Hillary Rodham Clinton.