Not that long ago, it was a widely held opinion among conservatives in the professional political class that Hillary Clinton would be a dream Democratic presidential nominee -- for the Republicans. Her high negatives, divisive personality, weak political skills, excess baggage and reputation as a big government lefty would all combine to make her the perfect opponent for a Republican nominee trying to change the subject to anything but what the voting public had come to hate about the previous 7-8 years of Republican rule. It didn't matter how unpopular Bush was or the GOP had become, this thinking went, because Hillary simply couldn't win a general election.
That thinking was always a little foolish and wishful, because it ignored the fact that all Hillary (or any other Dem for that matter) would have to do is win the states Kerry won in 2004, plus one big one or several smaller ones. (Ohio alone, where the GOP was decimated in 2006, would do it. Other states that in the current environment could be Dem pick-ups are New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, West Virginia, even Virginia).
But you don't hear those assumptions about Senator Clinton's fatal weaknesses from Republican pros much anymore. In fact, you hear the opposite. Republicans now sound worried that Hillary will win the nomination. Why? Because she's shown herself to be so formidable in the Democratic primary campaign thus far. The biggest eye-opener to R's has been her success in parrying Obama's challenge while enhancing her credentials as the most experienced and sober-minded Democrat in the field on issues of national security. Here, in the latest expression of this new thinking among conservative Republicans, is Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, in a column about Hillary that will surely earn him lots of angry mail and email from old school NR readers.
Jay Carney is Time's Washington bureau chief. He has covered both the Clinton and Bush 43 White Houses, as well as Congress.