Barack Obama isn't a mortal threat to Hillary Clinton's White House hopes - his potential candidacy may be just the gift she needs to assure her of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Having the right opponent is one of the essentials to electoral success. In a primary, the right foe is someone who is strong enough to keep anybody else from gaining serious traction, but not strong enough to win. Obama seems to fit the bill.
The 1996 Republican race saw something similar, Gen. Colin Powell flirted with running throughout '95 and early '96. That was a big boost for Sen. Bob Dole, about as flawed a candidate for a party nomination as one can imagine - because it made it nearly impossible for anyone else to get much attention, let alone raise funds. Candidates who might have mounted serious challenges, such as Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, wilted for lack of funds and attention. In the end, the closest thing to a serious challenger to Dole was the one option with even less charisma: Steve Forbes.
Consciously or not, Obama is doing the same for Hillary. While the media endlessly promotes him and his ratings rise, other candidates are frozen. They can't raise money and they can't get commitments.
But soon people will settle down and ask themselves if a freshman senator, with only two years of national office under his belt, can really be president. In the middle of a war, are we going to put a man with absolutely no foreign policy or armed services oversight credentials into the White House?
No way. All the media adulation is merely setting Obama up for a nasty fall.
Just ask Howard Dean how it works. He was golden from September to November of '03, but crashed when the pressure got serious in December. Even his campaign manager conceded that "this guy isn't ready for prime time."
Obama's not ready, either. But he is able to choke off other challengers to Hillary. Already, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh has joined Virginia ex-Gov. Mark Warner in dropping out. Ex-Sen. John Edwards finds himself going backward in the polls, the momentum he gained during his wife's book tour slipping away amid Obama-mania. Even Al Gore may have to think twice about getting into the race with Obama sucking up all the oxygen in the room.
Hillary should have sent Barack a big thank-you present for Christmas.