Will Hillary Clinton replace Joe Biden on the 2012 Democratic ticket?
"Some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012," Bob Woodward told John King last night on CNN. "President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees that she did so well with during the  primaries and so they switch jobs -- not out of the question. And the other interesting question is, Hillary Clinton could run in her own right in 2016 and be younger than Ronald Reagan when he was elected president."
The White House has denied it. Clinton says Biden is doing "a wonderful job."
"We have a great relationship and I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than dismissing these stories and moving on because we have no time," she told a Fortune Magazine conference in Washington. "I think both of us are very happy doing what we are doing."
Could it really happen? Anything's possible, but there are five good reasons to think it won't.
1. It hardly ever happens. There's often speculation about vice presidents leaving the ticket. It happens most every time a president dips in the polls. But Dick Cheney didn't bolt the ticket in 2004, nor did Spiro Agnew in 1972 or Dan Quayle in 1992. The last president to dump a sitting veep was Gerald Ford, who jettisoned Nelson Rockefeller, who had been appointed vice president following Spiro Agnew's and Richard Nixon's resignations. But that 1976 ticket was an exceptional circumstance. Ford faced a challenge to his nomination from Ronald Reagan that's been unmatched in modern times, much closer than the Ted Kennedy challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt replaced John Nance Gardner with Henry Wallace. Garner had become a New Deal opponent in many respects. And in 1944 Wallace himself got the boot. The rarity of the event underscores how unlikely it is.
2. The denials are vociferous. Sure, minds can change and spokesmen can spin but the push back from the White House has been unambiguous. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning: "It's just absolutely not true. It's not going to happen. .. It's not anything that's being discussed here." Gibbs added that picking Biden was "one of the best decisions he's made". And, he said, "Joe Biden is doing an extraordinary job" and Obama is "also quite pleased with the job the secretary of state is doing." The Vice President's office is rejecting the rumor, too.
3. Can Hillary really help that much? In his new book, Obama's Wars, Woodward notes that former Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn was already looking ahead to 2012 even before Clinton accepted the job as secretary of State:
"Penn always had his eye on the prize -- the White House. If she did the job for four years, Obama might be in trouble and have to dump Biden and pick her to run with him as vice president. She had nearly beaten Obama and won substantial margins in the primaries among four important constituencies -- women, Latinos, the working class, and seniors -- voting blocs Obama would need in 2012. Her addition to the ticket might be a necessity."
It's true that Clinton could be a motivator to key voting blocs like women without college educations whose support for Obama has been plummeting. And Clinton played well with white rural Democrats in the 2008 primaries, easily picking off states like Kentucky and West Virginia.
But would she really be that big a draw in 2012? Maybe. But there's never been a ticket of an African-American man and a woman and there's no telling if that much change might be upsetting to more voters than would be energized. Also if the war in Afghanistan is still raging and she hasn't brought peace to the Middle East -- both of which seem more likely than not -- what would she tout as her great accomplishment as secretary of State?
4. It's a huge admission of error. If Biden is dumped from the ticket or leaves under pressure, it's tantamount to an admission of failure. And since the White House has promoted the story line that Biden is deeply involved in everything from overseeing the implementation of the stimulus to developing U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, forcing him to abdicate is an admission that the first term has been a failure.
5. Clinton overshadows Obama if she's veep. If Clinton is brought on as veep, she's essentially being brought in to save his presidency. In 2008 she was rejected from consideration for the ticket, in part because of their rivalry and in part because of fears of her overshadowing him. Now she'd really be saving him, and that could have the effect of diminishing Obama rather than enhancing him, which could diminish his re-election chances. And, of course, there's Bill. Does Obama want the former president that close to home?
Of course, there are good reasons it could happen:
1. Biden would leave if he thought it would help. Unlike most vice presidents throughout history, Biden seems to be without presidential aspirations. So Biden could leave the ticket more willingly than other veeps who still hold out hopes of moving from the vice-presidential mansion into the White House.
2. Biden's medical history. He did have two brain aneurysms in the '80s, and he would be 70 at the start of a second term. He's incredibly vigorous, but poor health can strike anyone.
3. He's been at it long enough. After a political career that's run 40 years and included two presidential bids and one for vice president, Biden could pass on another term with the satisfaction of a long career.
4. Obama could ask him to leave. If the president asks Biden to leave, he's unlikely to balk and damage the first African American president's chances at re-election. Unlike a Cabinet member, Biden can't be fired. He was elected and so would have to leave under his own volition.
Odds are overwhelming that there's going to be an Obama-Biden ticket in 2012. But history is replete with extraordinary moments -- a first lady being elected to the Senate and then becoming secretary of State, a presidential election being decided by the Supreme Court, an African-American being elected president. In the scheme of things, a 70-year-old vice president leaving the ticket seems entirely feasible.