The Accounting: Last week I was "on assignment." More precisely, my day job overcame my avocation.

For those of you who like to keep track of what I do, here are the highlights of the week that was:

Wednesday: In my capacity as student government advisor, I assisted in hosting a Civil Rights lecture in celebration of Black History Month. Baylor's James SoRelle brought a bit of gender equity to the study of the CRM with "Where Have All the Women Gone? Re-imaging the Civil Rights Movement, 1865-1965."

FYI: We are also hosting an African American Literature colloquium this week.

Thursday: I accompanied a dozen student leaders to Austin, where we met with our elected state representatives (Senator Kip Averett & Representatives Jim Dunnam and Charles "Doc" Anderson).

Friday: I once again made the 100-mile jaunt down I-35 to Austin, this time in the company of colleagues for the annual convention of Texas community college teachers. On that assignment, I was able to spend an immensely enjoyable day of conversation and conviviality with friends dedicated to perpetuating the American experiment.

We enjoyed a stimulating and intimate lunch with an emerging superstar in American scholarship: H.W. Brands.

Agenda: I intend to offer some thoughts on all of these events at some point.

But First. We also attended a discussion of the coming 2008 presidential race offered by Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I like Patterson. I heard him speak a few years ago at another convention. He is thoughtful and fair-minded. He has a great line: "the forecasting models indicate (insert prediction here) but I wouldn't bet my house on it." It is an important caveat. He sees this as a Democratic Party year, and I agree with him, but there is a reason we show up for the game even when the odds are prohibitive. On any given Sunday....

Why are the Democrats ahead? Patterson noted that 1952 and 1968 were historical parallels. Stuck in unpopular wars, the parties of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson suffered the consequences of presidential unpopularity. Looking at the job approval ratings of the President, the party of Bush groans with dread. The Democrats are currently running an 18-point lead in the generic canvass. There are potential pitfalls for the Dems (looking "anti-American" for one), but right now they have the better hand to play.

Even as there are many strongly persuasive indicators on general elections, the dynamics of the primaries make predictions on party nominations uncertain. Having said that, the nominations are now decided during the "invisible primary." That is, in the era of front-loading, the campaign prior to the first caucus and first primary generally determines the nominee. In a nutshell, this time next year, in all likelihood, we will know our two major party nominees.

Some things to watch:

1. Follow the Money. A winning candidate will need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the nomination. George Bush busted the ancien regime, opting out of the matching funds system in 2000. Flush with cash, Bush rebounded after a loss in New Hampshire by swamping the poorly funded opposition on Super Tuesday. Then John Kerry in 2004 reaffirmed that no candidate could afford to stay within the federally funded order. Unable to gain traction, Kerry used his own money to fund his comeback. Limited funds deny candidate flexibility. The more money a candidate possesses, the less lethal any one mistake or setback will be.

2. Follow the Media and the Media Paradox. Media coverage drives popularity. The Media only cover viable candidates. Candidates cannot gain popularity without media coverage. In an era of limited media resources, only candidates with momentum and popular appeal will draw coverage.

The conclusion: It is very difficult for second tier candidates to break into the front-runners. Having said that, it happens: Howard Dean in 2004 for example.

Who will break through this time? Maybe no one in the party of Jackson. Patterson sees the Democratic race fairly fixed. There are three major candidates: a charismatic fresh face with a classically liberal outlook, an experienced DLC centrist triangulator and a populist white guy outlier (Obama, Hillary and Edwards).

The one wild card? Al Gore. He keeps saying he won't run--but Patterson wondered if an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize might create enough momentum to change the course of the primary battle. Sunday night reinforces Gore's improbable dream. However, based on personal acquaintance with some Gore insiders, and the physical appearance of the former VP, Patterson guesses that Gore stays out.

For the GOP. There are three prominent Republican candidates: Romney, McCain and Giuliani. But they don't strike Patterson as very GOP-like. There may be an opening because the Republicans really need another choice.