My Mantra?

Nobody Knows Anything.

What does that mean?

This is a campaign like no other. Already, we have had more debates than I can count; the candidates have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, political fortunes have risen and fallen and risen again, and we are still fifteen months out from the election. We have never seen a canvass such as this; therefore, no one can predict what will happen between now and November 2008.

Having said that, here are a few more half-baked thoughts concerning where we are right now.

Clinton clearly on top; Obama still a threat

I don't say I coined "Clinton-44," but I started referring to Hillary in that fashion well over a year ago. For a long time, I have seen Mrs. Clinton as the odds-on-favorite to be the forty-fourth president of the United States. This week as the conventional wisdom seemed to gel around that idea, however, I began to get a case of cold feet on that prediction. I am the ultimate contrarian. And, sure enough, Barack Obama seems to suddenly "connect" in the You-Tube debate.

While the insiders scored one for Hillary and her mature foreign policy statement, the focus groups went wild over Obama's sincerity, authenticity, and "freshness." Go figure.

Some perspective: as sure as I am that Hillary has a nearly insurmountable organizational advantage at this juncture, I must admit that at the same point four years ago I was equally positive that Howard Dean had the Democratic nomination in the bag. Of course, I was in good company, as Karl Rove reportedly thought the same thing. But so much can go wrong.

To repeat, for a number of reasons, I see this as a Democratic year. Almost any Democratic candidate can and should win in November. That doesn't mean that a Democratic win is a sure thing. Villanova beat Georgetown in 1985. Baylor beat USC in the Coliseum later the same year. Hickory beat South Bend Central in Hossiers. Jets and Colts, Super Bowl III. We'll play the game. But we'll go into the contest as big underdogs.

For years now, Mrs. Clinton has been laying the foundation for a run for president as a moderate. But life is funny, and so much can go wrong. For Mrs. Clinton Iraq went wrong. With the possible exception of President Bush, no one was more surprised that there were no weapons of mass destruction. With the possible exception of President Bush, no one should be more frustrated with the unforeseen protracted and bloody campaign to pacify Iraq. These developments have proven extremely inconvenient for Mrs. Clinton.

Because things are so dreadful in Iraq, and the American people are so frustrated, angry, and sour, political rookie Obama emerged as a surprisingly viable alternative. Having said all that, none of this is unrelentingly terrible news from Mrs. Clinton's point of view. Someone had to emerge. The political laws of the universe dictate that a candidate on the way to the nomination must face some resistance.

A Likely Scenario

Right now Mrs. Clinton holds a comfortable lead. Most likely, Obama will continue to rise in the polls until he is even with Clinton, possibly even surpass Clinton, and then peak. These will be tense moments. Both camps will develop a deep dislike for the other. Then Mrs. Clinton's experience and superior organization will take over, the adults in the Democratic Party will exert their influence, Clinton will pull back ahead of Obama, and then pull away from him down the stretch. Then Mrs. Clinton will extend a gracious hand of friendship to Obama and offer him the VP. Obama will seize the opportunity to further his political education and prepare for his ultimate elevation to the Chief Executive. And they both shall live happily ever after.

On the other hand, so much can go wrong. If Obama catches fire, and wins the nomination (still an entirely plausible potential outcome), all bets are off. Obama is the one viable candidate of inexperience. As we saw the other night, inexperience means promises to meet with Castro and crazy Middle Eastern dictators. More importantly, an inexperienced candidate of the people means a firm commitment to rapid withdrawal from Iraq and the Middle East.

An Important but often Overlooked Point

Faced with the actual prospect of "retreat and defeat" and "cut and run" (and I use those terms because they will be plentiful in the fall of 2008, if Obama is running for president), I am convinced that the American people will hesitate. It is one thing to tell a pollster you are dissatisfied with the war. It is another thing entirely to actually have the responsibility of determining the future of American foreign relations in a national election.

Such a momentous decision will be hard fought and closely contested. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, he will be locked into a position extremely difficult to defend in a logical way. In such a situation any Republican candidate has a decent chance at knocking off the inexperienced Obama.