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Hillary wins the room 

There were about 30 liberal Democrats, crammed into half the side room of Doe’s Eat Place. They were partitioned into makeshift privacy by sliding doors that were pulled together while Brent Bumpers, Dale’s eldest, introduced me.

Seconds before, Brent had stood precariously on a chair to turn off the window air conditioner. That enabled me to be heard more readily, but left me patchy with perspiration nearly an hour later when, mercifully, everyone lined up single file at the cash register.

This is an outgrowth of the ad hoc group of die-hards who despaired in 2004 that John Kerry was blowing off the state. Largely at Brent’s initiative, they raised a little money. Daddy Dale and David Pryor and Wes Clark made radio spots. Brent, whose business is making Brent and Sam’s Cookies, learned a little about the art and science of placing those ads.

It did no discernible good. A guy with an “F” from the National Rifle Association who didn’t fight back against attacks on his war heroism — it wasn’t going to happen in Arkansas.

Now these folks meet periodically for fellowship and, almost incidentally, to receive some kind of program that Brent lines up.

I asked everyone to pretend large sums of their fortunes depended on their being correct and to write on a piece of scratch paper the name of the person they honestly thought would be the next president, and pass it forward.

As they did so, I ventured that the next president would be . . . Hillary Clinton.

She may get beat in Iowa by John Edwards, in New Hampshire by Barack Obama and in South Carolina by Edwards again. But her advantage is nationwide and she’ll become the comeback gal in early February when nearly half the states hold primaries.

Then she’ll pick Bill Richardson as her running mate, which will make her competitive in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. She might even compete in Arkansas if she stays far away and lets Bill run as her unabashed surrogate.

I predicted Republicans would tire of Rudy Giuliani because of his liberalism and fall back on John McCain who, because everything is relative, will be made to appear more palatably conservative by comparison to Giuliani. McCain also will be made to appear less the flip-flopping panderer because Mitt Romney will trump him on that score.

By then I had a tally. Hillary had 17 votes. Obama had three. Nobody else had more than two.

David Pryor took note that, if my scenario came true, we would, for the first time in 48 years, elect a president from the U.S. Senate. He wondered if that meant anything.

Probably not. Republicans have nominated aged senators before, like Bob Dole. The story on the Democratic side will be the first woman. That this particular woman lit in the Senate for a few years between first ladyhood and her own presidential bid is immaterial to their larger historic theme.

I detected a bit of an edge. Those who like Obama are rather intense. They see him as a grassroots hero who could shock the establishment. They cited his raising millions from small donors, which seems to suggest he can increase his already ample treasury exponentially. One woman reminded me how electric Obama had been in an October appearance at the state Capitol.

Vince Insalaco, veteran and amiable politico, quoted something he’d read, in a Joe Klein column, he thought. It was that the Democrats are married to the Clintons, but having an affair with Obama.

Somebody asked me to compare America’s readiness to elect a woman with America’s readiness to elect an African-American. There’s no comparison. America stands fully ready to elect a woman president, but remains too racist to elect a black president.

There was uncomfortable agreement, and that seemed a good time to break up.

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