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For Hillary

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It seems Barack Obama has scratched Hillary Clinton from his list of possible running mates. He should rethink his situation. Few potential picks help him at all. Hands down, Hillary helps the most.

Some say Clinton would undermine Obama's big 'change' theme; that he should seek a fresh face among governors; or if he looks to the senate, it should be to someone like Indiana's Evan Bayh, he of the eternally fresh face. It's good advice -- for John McCain. Barack needs something else.

In times of deep foreboding, people value experience as much as a reformist spirit. Obama's vulnerabilities are few but the charge of inexperience, even coming from the crowd that gave us George Bush, is one. So no governors or Washington ingénues; the smart move is to shore up the weak flank.

Chris Dodd could do it, or perhaps Joe Biden, but no one telegraphs experience like Clinton. No First Lady, no Chief of Staff and, before Gore and Cheney, no vice president learned so much in the White House. For sixteen years she has lived at the epicenter of American politics. Some deny it, but everybody knows it.

Mere familiarity means almost as much as experience. The change Obama outlines in his speeches is incremental, but the change he embodies is profound. Faced with that and a general foreboding of the future, people crave the reassurance that comes with a known commodity. Next to Hillary, all the rumored picks are but strangers.

If polls are your thing, note that tapping Clinton widens Obama's thin lead in every one. Among older women Obama runs behind Al Gore and John Kerry. It's the single demographic in which he has the best chance to shore up his position, and an obvious way to do it.

Obama must also do some work among so called Reagan Democrats and low middle income whites, especially in the rural Northeast and Midwest. In the primaries, the appeal to these folks of the feisty little gal from Wellesley and Westchester surprised us all.

Some attributed her late surge to race. It's a cynical dismissal of her and of small town and white working America. What really happened is this: after two or three near-death experiences Hillary finally fired pollster Mark Penn. She then made a more detailed, populist pitch to an ailing middle class desperate for remedies. It worked, almost well enough.

Obama must ponder swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. In each one he's at or near a statistical dead heat. When he was losing these states to Clinton his people said that in November he'd offset them with wins in the South and Southwest.

Both ideas -- Dixie leading this particular charge, Obama beating McCain on McCain's home turf -- land somewhere between wishful thinking and outright fantasy. Does anyone in Obama's camp believe them? Does someone there see the sense in honoring the consensus choice of the states he lost then and now must win?

Consultants care too much for polls and outdated ticket balancing. When Bill Clinton tapped Al Gore, another middle aged white guy -- moderate, Baptist, from a neighboring state no less -- he defied conventional wisdom. But their chemistry was perfect. Bill brought out Al's personality; Al brought out Bill's principles. Together, they looked like the future we had once imagined.

Obama/Clinton would be a lot like Clinton/Gore; a match of two gifted and like minded people; a charismatic charmer, an earnest wonk; change and experience. Together, they look like the future millions of Americans, not just women and minorities, have been imagining for what seems like forever.

The raps on Hillary are Republicans hate her and no one can manage Bill. She says the haters aren't voting Democrat anyway and she more than anyone knows how to counter their attacks. Of late, Obama's campaign shows need of such skills. As for the mindless chatter about Bill, suffice to say it underestimates three people: Bill, Hillary and Barack Obama.

As Republicans try to gin up a third straight presidential culture war, Obama seeks to switch topics to the economy. He hasn't got much traction yet. With her star power and connection to the most successful economy policies in half a century, Hillary more than anyone can help him do it.

Picking a vice president signals judgment and leadership. Obama must lift his sights high. We know he's one cool customer. Now is his chance to show magnanimity, wisdom and the political skill to unite and reenergize a whole political party.

The case for Clinton rests above all on two points. One, she earned it. Marginalized, broke and nearly broken she battled her way back to a virtual tie. Imagine the feelings of Obama supporters had he fought back to within half a point only to be sent packing.

Most important, Hillary Clinton is a woman of remarkable ability and the most qualified person for the job. With Obama and Clinton, Democrats would say to the nation: We offer you the very best we have. Now go pick a future.