WASHINGTON — It's early - but presidential political talk already is all around us. So I ask myself a few questions about the emerging presidential prospects:
Will the current favorite of most Democrats, Hillary Clinton, get the party's nomination?
It would be easy to say "yes." She has proved herself to be an effective, non- confrontational, and likable senator. And it's easily arguable that this very smart woman - who needs no big outlay of advertising to become recognizable everywhere - will be unstoppable if, as expected, she throws her hat in the ring.
But there's that one little thing that pollsters continue to find: About a third of voters intensely dislike her - and Bill - and wouldn't vote for her under any circumstances.
OK, these "Clinton haters," as they're called, are probably mostly conservatives and Republicans. And sure, they undoubtedly wouldn't vote for her anyway.
But as much as Democrats like Hillary, what they want most is to win in '08. And there are already some influential Democrats who are asking: Why take a chance with a candidate who is a polarizer, someone who is bound to stir up a lot of hate-filled opposition and expensive efforts to bring her down?
So there are reports of prominent Democrats who are concluding that it would be risky to go with Clinton and are talking up that very personable senator from Indiana, Evan Bayh, as the kind of centrist fellow they could rally behind.
Are the Democrats overlooking a possible winner?
Over the years, I've covered a number of politicians who were outstandingly charismatic: like the Kennedys, Rockefeller, Reagan, and - as I look far back - Eisenhower. While I won't say that the new senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, possesses as much personal political attractiveness as they did - he's quite a charmer.
Senator Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr., and Ann Dunham. Before his particularly impressive entry into the US Senate last fall - with a big victory that brought many independents and even Republicans to his side - Obama had been a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and leader in the Illinois senate.
He hasn't yet had time to make much of a mark in the US Senate, but he's already gaining the respect of his colleagues on the Veterans Affairs and Foreign Relations committees.
Of course, he's probably not thinking about running for president in '08. But as you hear him speak or if you chat with him - as I did at last December's winter Gridiron banquet, where he made a speech that was one of the best ever heard at that annual event - you just know that the Democrats have a great political property in this exceedlying likable fellow.
Political observers are saying he's a strong future presidential possibility. It's unrealistic, but I'll ask: Why not now? He's already proved he can attract the votes of whites as well as blacks and other minorities. And this graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School would hold his own in debate with any Republican opponent.
How about the Republicans?
John McCain is the favorite, it seems. But other strong possibilities include Bill Frist, Rudy Giuliani, George Allen, and Jeb Bush (although he says he won't run).
Is there an "outsider" who might make it?
Yes, the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, certainly isn't someone the party chieftains know very well or with whom they're fully comfortable. Yet I'd say to keep your eye on Governor Romney, who is on the brink of getting into the race.
Mitt is George Romney's son. I covered George's 1960 winning race for governor of Michigan and was impressed by that highly moral, most articulate man. Indeed, I've always thought that Romney would have beaten a much less attractive presidental candidate, Richard Nixon, had a comment of Romney's about the Vietnam War not been wrongly interpreted by the press. His comment, referring to having been "brainwashed" by American officials about the war effort, was twisted - in my opinion - out of context by the press, and this caused him to drop out of the race for president.
I've seen enough of Mitt (at a Monitor breakfast and when he also spoke at last December's Gridiron banquet) to conclude that he's a lot like his dad and that he truly has the stuff to become a formidable and possibly winning candidate.
• Godfrey Sperling is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.