The September 29th issue of the National Journal, an inside-the-Beltway magazine, contains a striking news item. Hillary Clinton has quietly signed a deal with the University of Illinois to house her presidential library. The university will put up $15m to help finance the construction and operation of the huge building on its Urbana-Champaign campus, close to where Hillary Rodham was born.
This was, of course, a joke””but it contains a serious point. The political establishment is betting heavily that Hillary Clinton will become America’s next president. And it has reason. Mrs Clinton is way out in front of the Democratic field. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll puts her 33 points ahead of Barack Obama and 40 points ahead of John Edwards. She raised $22m in the last quarter””more than Mr Obama at $19m and much more than Mr Edwards at $7m. The once-mighty Republican Party is a shadow of its former self, divided not only about who should lead it but also about where it should go. Intrade, a pay-to-play prediction market, shows a 36% chance of the Republicans holding the White House alongside a 12% chance of them taking the House and a 7% chance they might take the Senate.
Politicos invariably hedge all this around with qualifications. Howard Dean was well ahead of the Democratic field at this stage of the electoral cycle in 2004. Mr Obama might make a breakthrough in Iowa (where he is nipping Mrs Clinton’s heels) and gain enough momentum to win the nomination. Mrs Clinton might stumble and fall. The American electorate might balk at the idea of handing both the White House and Capitol Hill to a single party and go for a Republican president. All possible, of course; but all less likely by the day. Mrs Clinton is not only the front-runner. She is well on the way to becoming a prohibitive front-runner.