The rumour has resurfaced – perhaps inevitably, but this time stronger than ever: could the long and bitter battle for the Democratic nomination end in what many see as the perfect answer – Barack Obama united with the all-but-vanquished Hillary Clinton on a "dream ticket" for the White House?
After his big primary win in North Carolina and very near miss in Indiana this week, Mr Obama himself gave fresh impetus to the speculation. "She is tireless, she is smart. She is capable," he told CNN. "Obviously she'd be on anybody's shortlist to be a potential vice-presidential candidate." On NBC he had a similar message: "There's no doubt that she's qualified to be vice-president, there's no doubt she's qualified to be President."
Thus far there have been no similar noises from the other side. The Clinton camp naturally shies away from the subject: even to publicly concede the possibility, when her candidacy is hanging by a thread, would be taken as acceptance of defeat.
Others, however, believe that although Ms Clinton vows to fight on in pursuit of the top job, quiet feelers are being put out about a "dream ticket" – indeed, some argue that the former first lady's real purpose in staying in the race is to make her claim to the vice-presidency unassailable.
George Stephanopoulos, currently of ABC News but with ties to Clintonland dating back to his years as one of the closest aides of Bill Clinton, believes she would accept the second spot. Many Democratic Party workers, meanwhile, devoutly pray for that outcome as the ideal way to heal rifts they fear could yet deprive them of victory in what should be a sure-win year.
The Democratic coalition has split down the middle, with older, poorer and female voters, especially whites, favouring Mrs Clinton, while African Americans and more educated and affluent Democrats overwhelmingly support Mr Obama. And if exit polls after recent primaries are a pointer, the divide is becoming a real danger, with a quarter of Clinton voters and almost as many Obama supporters saying they will stay at home in November or vote for John McCain if their man (or woman) loses.
These angry souls may of course return to the Democratic fold once the contest is over. Nonetheless, the risk is growing that disenchanted Democrats could hand Mr McCain victory in traditionally close-fought states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida – and with them the White House. For this reason, according to a poll last week, a majority of Obama and Clinton voters want the rivals reunited on the ticket.
Several precedents exist for two candidates to join forces in the general election.
There was no love lost in 1960 between John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, his strongest rival. But Kennedy picked LBJ as his Democratic running mate because of his belief, justified by events, that the latter would help him in the South, and especially in Johnson's home state of Texas. Two decades later, Ronald Reagan chose George H W Bush, his early opponent in the 1980 Republican primaries, paving the way for the elder Bush to win the presidency himself in 1988 – a precedent that may hearten Mrs Clinton today. The same happened on the Democratic side, albeit with a less happy outcome, when the 2004 nominee John Kerry asked John Edwards, his strongest rival in the primaries, to join him on the ticket.
But a possible duo raises problems. The personal chemistry between the two is unclear. Once, of course, this did not greatly matter. But it does now, when – as the Dick Cheney experience has shown – the vice-presidency is a post of great power.
On the other hand, having long behaved as if the presidency were an entitlement, and a Clinton restoration a virtual fait accompli, Mrs Clinton's pride means she would be unsatisfied with anything but the top job.
There are also familiar questions about the role of Bill Clinton, and whether the Clintons would continue to dominate the party machine. In other words, an Obama/Clinton team-up might be not so much dream ticket as poison pill. As for the divisions in the party, could not these be healed simply by Mrs Clinton and her husband campaigning enthusiastically for Mr Obama?
And there is another job which could tempt a defeated Mrs Clinton – that of Senate majority leader. She has won fine reviews for her performances on Capitol Hill. With Democrats set to increase their majority in the Senate in November, conceivably close to a filibuster-beating 60, the majority leader would wield real power.Reuse content