Anyone for an outlandishly premature prediction?

Hillary vs. Fred in a national campaign that comes down to the wire, with Clinton clipping Thompson by a nose.

The nominees:

Why Hillary? You have heard me on all this before: she has the organization, she is surrounded by the best and brightest brain trust, she is partnered with the ultimate Democratic Party rock star, and she has grit. That is, Mrs. Clinton is more manly (in the nineteenth century, Harvey Mansfield sense) than any of her opponents.

Clinton is NOT the most electable general election candidate in the Democratic primary race. Barack Obama would be virtually unstoppable next November. He is a nearly perfect general election candidate: handsome, fresh, charismatic, and the most credible agent of change. Edwards, too, would have a good chance at winning, as he is appealing, approachable, and telegenic. Under the protection of a mainstream media desperate for a Democratic victory, both of those men would be incredibly difficult to defeat.

But the Democrats don't see things that way. They are awfully hung up on Obama's race, wondering if America can elect a black man as the "Great White Father." As for Edwards, he has not been able to penetrate the two-person duel. At this point, it seems more and more a two-horse race, and Hillary is still the odds-on favorite.

Why Fred? Thompson is not the most conservative of the GOP hopefuls--but he is plenty conservative. He is not the most articulate of the candidates--but he is certainly affable and persuasive. He is not the most handsome man in the race--but his is a stately and sturdy countenance. He is not the most red-state Republican of the nomination contestants--but he speaks fluently the language of the heartland. No dramatic knockout here, but once primary voters add up their scorecards, Thompson wins easily on points. My guess is that Thompson emerges with the nomination as the realization spreads over the Republican faithful that he is the candidate with whom they are the most comfortable.

One cautionary note: no Southern candidate ever won banking solely on the South. The South always comes through for its favorite sons, but the victories down South have often come too little and too late. Think Al Gore in 1988 and John Edwards in 2004. Successful Southerners must necessarily score dramatic wins early in the contest outside the South (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush). Bottom line: Fred cannot wait for Super-Duper Tuesday to make his move. He must have momentum (more than merely South Carolina) before February 5.

November 4, 2008? After a plodding race, with Hillary playing conservatively trying not to blow her advantages, and Fred inching up consistently over the course of a methodical and laconic campaign, the final weeks turn frantic. So much on the line. So close.

In the end, like Jerry Ford in 1976, Fred Thompson falls just short: 49.9 to 49.1. Hillary wins Ohio and a comfortable electoral margin of victory.

No guarantees here. But today that's my vision. We'll see what tomorrow looks like.