IT'S ALL ABOUT THE R'S IN '08. Bloggers and journalists focused on the Democratic presidential primary contest in '03 and '04 because there wasn't one on the Republicans side, and there still seems to be a bit of a hang-over from that reporting that leads people to pay more attention to possible '08 Democratic contenders than Republican ones. This really needs to end. The most common questions about the '08 contest in my experience involve Hillary Clinton: Will she run? Can she win? etc., etc. But the answer to such questions cannot be found by looking at Clinton's history or the political landscape alone. Clinton's electability will be entirely a function of who the Republican '08 candidate is, as will any Democrat's electability.

This straw poll of Republican bloggers (via a Jerome Armstrong post at MyDD) reminded me of this and of just how different Republican bloggers are from the mainstream of the Republican Party. There's been a surge of support among Republican bloggers for Newt Gingrich, and whereas a recent Iowa poll showed Rudy Giuliani and John McCain to be the two strongest potential candidates at this early date, the bloggers back Giuliani, Gingrich, and Mitt Romney as their top three. Are GOP bloggers an early-warning system for Republican candidates in the same way they are for Democrats? Does McCain have the same blogger-outreach, party-activist problems as Clinton? Only time will tell, but it is interesting to see that it's not just Democratic bloggers who differ from their party's mainstream on '08 candidates.

So, taking the Republican candidate into consideration, could Clinton win a hypothetical match-up against Gingrich? Absolutely. And I'd bet on her against Bill Frist and the post-Macaca George Allen, as well. The real question is: Can Clinton beat McCain or Giuliani? And, if those seem like tough contests for her: Which other likely Democratic presidential contenders could be expected to do better against those two candidates with strong national security credentials and demonstrated electoral cross-over appeal?

Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of discussing Clinton in the abstract. Until someone can make the case for how John Edwards or Evan Bayh would beat McCain or Giuliani, the criticisms of Clinton don't strike me as being much more than the politics of personal distaste. Clinton could probably beat 75 percent of the Republican field. So could most of the Democratic contenders. But the two candidates she'd face a tough race against would be tough for any Democrat to beat, and until someone makes the case for how the other Democrats would do any better in contests against the toughest Republican contenders, it's not at all clear we're actually discussing Clinton's "electability," rather than her personality or gender difference.

--Garance Franke-Ruta