The conventional wisdom is that after New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential equation is murky. Who's the front runner? It's difficult to say. Viewed another way, though, the Democratic future might now be clear for the next four, eight, twelve, or even sixteen years.
After enduring the scare of her life, Hillary Clinton has righted herself. She leads Barack Obama in the national polls. She is more battle-tested than he and has, as she says, been more vetted. She has now won something presidential on her own, showing a resilience and an appeal that had up to now been only theoretical. She's no longer "inevitable," which makes her more likely to win. To my mind, she has to be the favorite.
So, the question turns to a running mate. Again, the assumption is that it cannot be Obama. In the usual calculation, he makes no sense. He appeals largely to people who will vote for Clinton anyway. He brings no swing states into her column. Besides, she's Hillary, not one to do anything adventurous. She and her minions, the same geniuses who very nearly cost her the nomination, will crunch lots of numbers, and out will come some white guy from a border state, like Jim Webb or Evan Bayh. And she's Clinton. She has a long memory, won't want anyone upstaging her, and is sure to resent something Obama does or says or has already said, like his grudging statement of hemidemisemi-admiration for her in the debate the other night.
But this is not an ordinary campaign, and Obama is no ordinary campaigner. As his concession speech last night again made clear, his is more of a movement than a campaign. It has unleashed tremendous passion, particularly among young voters and African-Americans. He has brought, and can continue to bring, people to the polls who don't normally show up there. He can, for one thing, deliver some of those black voters that Jesse Jackson was forever promising but never actually produced, at least in a way that made much of a difference. Unleashing those voters, along with the women (for the first time last night, they showed some passion for one of their own) a Clinton-Obama team would generate its own rules. It would trump the usual shibboleths about ticket balancing. There is some precedent for such out-of-the-box thinking, and it comes from Bill Clinton, who chose another white Southerner. And Al Gore brought him far fewer votes than Obama would bring his wife. And this is a year for unconventional thinking. John McCain is unconventional. After all, he could well pick a Jewish Democrat to run with him.
So Hillary gets nominated and elected. Or Hillary loses to McCain. Either way, Obama is the Democratic heir-apparent. Indeed, under this scenario he has a better shot at the presidency than she does. And maybe even in four years. After all, his opponent will be 76 years old!