As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has firmed up her lead in the Democratic presidential race, speculation about her potential running mate is rising - among Republicans!
"Absolutely," said former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani when asked during a recent interview whether he thinks his fellow New Yorker will be nominated. "I believe she will be the nominee and Senator [Barack] Obama will be the vice presidential nominee."
Yes, some people already are talking about Mrs. Clinton as if she were the nominee before a single Democratic primary or caucus voter has had a chance to weigh in. As she has firmed up her lead of as much as 20 points ahead of second-place Mr. Obama in the polls, Mr. Giuliani is hardly the only observer speculating that she'll be the Democratic standard bearer.
But with Mr. Obama as a running mate? With that prediction, Mr. Giuliani expresses out loud what I have heard several friends, associates and news sources say in private in recent months.
In an open letter in the July 23 Newsweek, Anna Quindlen appealed to Mrs. Clinton to "make it your business to persuade Barack Obama to be your running mate."
Since Ms. Quindlen's piece appeared, Mrs. Clinton looks even stronger in national polls and focus groups, although her lead over Mr. Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is whisper-thin in critical Iowa, where the first caucuses are to be held.
Nevertheless, as voters and caucus-goers weigh their decisions, the prospect of a Clinton-Obama ticket is viewed with approval by some and dread by others.
"Conventional thinkers like to make this sound risky, pairing a woman and a black man on the ticket," Ms. Quindlen wrote. "But ... anyone who would be put off by Obama isn't going to vote for you [Mrs. Clinton] in the first place."
That's a reasonable point, but call me a conventional thinker.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama might be able to forge an effective campaign partnership with each other, although that's a big unknown.
More important, conventional political wisdom says you don't load up your political ticket with unpredictable unknowns - and, let's face it, there are few factors harder to predict than race and gender.
As a journalist, I'd love to cover the Clinton-Obama team against any comers. Journalism thrives on conflict between feisty players. But considering the public's ability to take only so much change at a time, even in a campaign that espouses change, I doubt that Mrs. Clinton would want to double her risks.
Traditional political wise guys would advise her to balance her ticket. If you're a pioneer by race, ethnicity, gender or any other perceived constituency, you don't team up two groundbreaking pioneers on the same ticket. Instead, you balance your ticket with an agreeable white male. Or maybe a candidate of Hispanic descent, such as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, with his strong crossover appeal and golden r?sum? as a diplomat.
Conservative pundits such as Pat Buchanan taunted Democratic nominees in the 1980s to nominate the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson as their running mate after his strong, if largely symbolic, presidential runs in 1984 and 1988. But because it did not take a genius to figure out that Mr. Jackson had no chance of being picked, those conservatives sounded as if they were trying to drive a wedge between Mr. Jackson's supporters and the rest of the Democratic Party.
So when a Republican such as Mr. Giuliani touts a Clinton-Obama ticket, it raises an intriguing question: Is he dreading the possibility or inviting it?
I suspect legal expert Jeffrey Toobin is closer to the truth with his recent prediction that if elected, Mrs. Clinton would offer Mr. Obama a seat on the Supreme Court.
That would be a hard offer for Mr. Obama to pass up, even though accepting it would all but rule out his running against President Hillary Clinton in 2012. As they say on a certain TV game show, what'll it be, senator? Deal or no deal?
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.