When New York magazine cooked up a cover photo of Hillary Clinton taking the presidential oath of office a few months ago, the image was a sweet dream for some and the ultimate political nightmare for others.
But the prospect of another Clinton march on the White House is no dream. Experts tell CBSNews.com that all signs point to an '08 run by Hillary.
"I'd be shocked if she didn't run," said Chuck Todd, editor of the National Journal's political news digest Hotline.
Clinton, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John Edwards are now the Democratic Party's most visible presidential could-bes. When matched in national polls, Clinton takes command. In a late-April Marist College survey, 40 percent of Democrats favored Clinton for the nomination. Kerry trailed with 18 percent, while Edwards picked up 16 percent.
Not that the polls necessarily offer hope and happiness to the junior senator from New York. She comes out on the losing end of match-ups with GOP could-bes like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. And Clinton's negatives are nothing to write home to Chappaqua about. Forty-one percent of U.S. voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton in a February Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll.
Nevertheless, many strategists say it's almost inevitable that Clinton will jump into the race: She's far and away the Democrats' best known name; she has a natural and widespread constituency (not to mention a well-oiled network of staff and advisers dispersed across the country); and she has enormous fundraising ability.
In fact, Clinton's fiscal prowess might serve to narrow the field of Democratic contenders. Her '06 Senate campaign raised almost $4 million in the past year and has $8.7 million on hand. Could a governor without a PAC network or party support – say, Iowa's Tom Vilsack or New Mexico's Bill Richardson – compete?
Hillary watchers who believe her every move is dictated by political ambition view the senator's increasingly middle-of-the-road political profile as a White House strategy.
"She could say something about grass growing and someone would interpret it as her making an appeal to states where grass grows," said the Hotline's Todd.
But her friends say the voters are simply seeing the person they've know all along – religious, practical and centrist.
Whatever the reason, Clinton has collaborated with conservatives, called for a "common ground" on abortion and cut a political figure some on the left see as decidedly un-liberal.
Clinton made her debut in the Senate Armed Services Committee four years ago, and has never voted against any major Iraq military spending legislation. She's been surprisingly hawkish for a woman perceived as a card-carrying liberal by friend and foe alike.