An open letter to John Fout,'s Political Correspondent.

Hey John -- great article on Hillary Clinton.

And the points you make are all true. She's a formidable candidate. She has a big lead in the opinion polls. And the Clintons know how to play hardball. Yes, she could be our next president.

But I'm still standing my ground .

At this stage in the race, 50-50 odds on her winning the White House are crazy.

John -- don't take that bet. You work hard for your money. And those are terrible, terrible odds.

Hillary may look and sound "inevitable" right now, but there are a lot of ways in which she can lose this race.

Two words: bimbo eruptions. I hate to bring this up, but we have to look at politics as it is, not as it should be. And a personal scandal can destroy a campaign. Maybe Hillary's husband won't embarrass her again. Maybe he's behaving himself. But then again, maybe he isn't. I have no idea.

All I know is that I wouldn't want to bet on it -- and if I did, you'd have to offer me a lot better odds than evens.

She gets outflanked by an antiwar candidate. Remember what happened to the "inevitable" Democratic front-runners during the last unpopular war? Back in '68 and '72, the party establishment lined up behind President Lyndon Johnson and Senator Ed Muskie. Both times the grassroots revolted. The base moved to the left and embraced antiwar insurgent candidates instead.

Today, the Iraq war is deeply loathed among likely Democratic primary voters. If Hillary maintains her polling lead through the fall, expect one or more of her leading rivals to go for broke and play a more aggressive, "troops out now" card.

That could turn this race upside down. Yet right now the markets are even giving Hillary a 70% chance of winning the nomination.

The Republicans nominate someone other than Rudy Giuliani. I think Hillary would stand a good chance against Rudy because their negatives cancel each other out. They're both abrasive and combative.

Neither is going to go down in middle America as warm and fuzzy. But Rudy is a long way from a slam dunk for the GOP nomination. He is deeply at odds with the base over touchstone issues like abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

Mitt Romney has a serious chance to be the last man standing in the party. And he would be a formidable opponent in a general election. This is, after all, a popularity contest, not a competitive exam.

Who would most Americans rather go to the ballgame with -- Romney or Hillary? It isn't even close. Romney looks like a president and he will come across as likeable.

And his pretty wife Ann rides a horse every day to treat her multiple sclerosis: The most brilliant spin doctor couldn't make it up.

Romney was more absentee landlord than governor for most of his four-year term in Massachusetts. But he has the title on his resume and no one is really going to look too closely anyway.

She just can't woo Flyover County. Remember, the next election is going to come down to a small number of swing voters in a handful of swing states. It's basically about 500,000 voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and maybe Florida.

The rest of us can stay at home. How will Hillary play among these voters? Flyover County, USA, is a long way from her base. She has her work cut out.

The right-wing media finally win one against Clinton, Inc. The Clintons may "know how to win," but that's far from true for the rest of their party. The Republicans generally fight smarter and harder.

And they can also draw on a much deeper bench of media support. Right-wing pundits are generally far more effective than their liberal counterparts. On the left, only Bill Maher has a really good fastball and he pitches once a week -- late at night, on cable.

Mike Bloomberg jumps into the race as an independent. The billionaire New York mayor could turn the race upside down. He probably wouldn't win, but depending on how he played he could cost the Democrats votes in some key swing states. Remember, even Ross Perot got about 20% of the vote back in 1992. Bloomberg would be a much stronger candidate.

The Democrats in Congress cost the party the White House. The country already views Congress with even greater disdain than it does the president. And that's going to make a lot of voters think twice before voting to put the White House in the hands of the same party.

While the Democrats will be running against George Bush next year, the Republicans are going to run against Congress. Expect to see a "gang of three" campaign, linking the Democratic nominee, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid. And expect it to be effective.

There are 13 months to go until the election. That's a long time in any market. The Dow's up 20% since September 2006. Google's ( GOOG) up nearly 70%.

Over the same period, Countrywide Financial ( CFC), the country's biggest mortgage lender, is down 50% while a lot of its rivals have vanished altogether. A lot of water will pass under the bridge between now and November 2006. I wouldn't bet on anyone at evens.

Remember, John, I'm not saying Hillary Clinton won't be president; she may have as good a chance as anyone. But she is far from inevitable. As every poker player knows, it's all about the odds. If you're looking for a couple of attractive bets, InTrade is offering 13-2 that Obama will be the nominee and slightly better than 10-1 that Romney will win the whole thing.
In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Brett Arends doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Arends takes a critical look inside mutual funds and the personal finance industry in a twice-weekly column that ranges from investment advice for the general reader to the industry's latest scoop. Prior to joining in 2006, he worked for more than two years at the Boston Herald, where he revived the paper's well-known 'On State Street' finance column and was part of a team that won two SABEW awards in 2005. He had previously written for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers in London, the magazine Private Eye, and for Global Agenda, the official magazine of the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Arends has also written a book on sports 'futures' betting.

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