It may seem too early to be talking about whom the Republican Party might select as its vice-presidential nominee in 2008. After all, there's not yet even a clear view of whom the GOP presidential nominee will be.
Still, applying a little bit of prognostication to some maneuverings in Congress over the past week leads me to believe there is one name likely to be on any short list of potential Republican VPs: Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Start with the reasonable premise that with Texas' own President George Bush with just a 30 percent approval rating, even this reddest of red states can't be taken for granted next year. That new presumption changes everything, because the Republicans must win Texas if they have the slightest hope of keeping the White House.
Next consider current polls. They suggest that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton may well be the Democratic nominee for president. Up against the prospect of her, picture the rather dingy parade of ho-hum white men that peoples the stages at televised Republican debates these days. (Hey, nobody get upset -- I'm white and male, too.)
Quickly the case gets bolder for the Republicans to put someone like Hutchison front and center among potential running mates.
New clarity on the situation was forthcoming this week when Hutchison decided to vote against re-opening the Senate debate on an immigration bill that voters in red states entirely loathe.
InsiderAdvantage polls conducted over the last two weeks in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina showed a minimum of 55 percent of voters opposed to the Bush immigration bill (details at www.advantage.com).
The amendment was defeated, which led Hutchison to remark that without it, there was no way to pretend the bill is anything shy of amnesty for illegal aliens.
The distaste for the immigration bill runs deep among both Republicans and Democrats in states we polled. Could that mean an articulate female Republican senator from a huge electoral state might offer some crossover appeal to independent voters in the presidential election, and maybe even to some scattered Democrats?
Make no mistake about it: With the White House witnessing support for the Iraq war crumbling among its own members in the Senate, and GOP senators being forced to fall on their swords for an immigration bill with little chance of passing the House of Representatives even if it gets out of the Senate, it's a long shot that any Republican can win the presidency in 2008.
Even states the GOP has been able to take for granted in recent presidential elections are now in doubt -- not necessarily for worry that they would go Democrat, but that conservative voters will be too demoralized to vote at all.
You don't reach the type of success Hutchison has enjoyed in a state like Texas without knowing how to take on big-time, powerful opponents.
After years of the stern and scowling Dick Cheney as vice president, presenting a softer side to the GOP ticket might be the remaining chance the party has to harvest a significant number of women voters, particularly against Hillary Clinton.
And if the Republicans actually won the election, Hutchison might bring to the vice presidency the refreshing notion that her office is a part of the executive branch of American government, instead of its own office of shadow government. Perhaps a Vice President Hutchison could help restore the belief that Republican officeholders aren't always secretive and uncompromising.
It's a refreshing thought, if nothing else.