Just when it seemed as though the last nails had been driven into the talk of a White House-bound dream team of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, everything old is new again.
The morning after Clinton brought her struggling presidential campaign back to life with wins in the Texas and Ohio Democratic primaries, she dropped new hints of such an eventual political marriage. Asked about the prospect on CBS' "The Early Show," the New York senator hinted that maybe, just maybe, it could happen. "Well, that may, you know, be where this is headed," she said with a laugh, then quickly added, "but, of course, we have to decide who's on the top of the ticket. I think that the people of Ohio very clearly said that it should be me." Maybe.
And maybe the voters in the 11 primaries in a row that she lost have a different idea.
Later in the day, Obama stuck to the script that the two of them have been following in recent weeks. "It is premature to talk about a joint ticket," he said.
By holding out, Obama surrendered to Clinton a modest but significant psychological advantage. She was repositioning herself in many minds as the front-runner, even though her opponent still held a numerical advantage in pledged delegates.
There's been talk in political circles of Obama as a possible vice president for Clinton since before the Illinois senator announced his candidacy. After he started to win primaries, talk heated up of a ticket with either Obama or Clinton at the top.
The notion erupted into public debate near the end of their first one-on-one debate in Los Angeles in late January. CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer brought it up, sparking enthusiastic applause from the star-studded crowd in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.
When Blitzer asked if they would consider "an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket going down the road," Obama parried, "Well, obviously there's a big difference between those two." That sparked laughs, but he concluded that "it would be premature and presumptuous" to speculate on vice presidents now.
As to whether Clinton might be on his "short list" for consideration, he responded, "I'm sure Hillary would be on anybody's short list."
When Blitzer asked Clinton her thoughts, she responded, "Well, I have to agree with everything Barack just said," which drew laughs and applause. But she didn't answer the question.
But when Vibe magazine asked Clinton a week before the Texas and Ohio primaries if there was a chance she would put Obama on her ticket if she won, Clinton said three times, "Of course, there is."
Her position hadn't changed but the political landscape did. Before her Texas and Ohio wins put her back in the game, speculation was mounting as to who was going to break the news to her that she should drop out of the race for the good of the party's unity.
After Texas and Ohio, suddenly the dream-ticket dream became an inviting signal to Democrats still sitting on the fence: Vote for her and maybe, just maybe, you can get him too.
Ah, Democrats quite properly believe that if Clinton and Obama would just team up they would spare the Democratic Party months of factional fighting and wooing of Democratic National Convention superdelegates. That's the Democratic nightmare and, after Texas and Ohio, it was looking more inevitable than ever.
Teaming up two "firsts," like the first non-white and the first woman nominees, would violate the traditional political wisdom of balancing the ticket ethnically and sexually. That's not unthinkable but it would be risky at a time when smart campaigns try to reduce risks.
Beyond that there's the birds-of-a-feather principle. Obama and Clinton are too much alike to avoid competing to be the boss. Clinton, the former first lady, has little desire to be second banana again and Obama needs her less than she needs the support of his supporters.
And, as alike as the two senators may be in their drive and ambition, it may be impossible for them to project the image of two people who genuinely like each other. Remember the presidential campaigns of Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004 and Republicans Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in 1996? Sometimes they behaved as if they hardly knew each other.
With memories like that still fresh in many minds, Obama was only being honest by holding out. It's not only too early to imagine an Obama-Clinton ticket or a Clinton-Obama, it is also nearly impossible.