She's ahead in polls and fundraising. But that does not mean she's a shoo-in for the nomination.
Hillary Clinton now has what a presidential candidate seeks: a sense of inevitability about eventual nomination. "Can Clinton be stopped?" headlines ask, as she tops polls and tops off campaign coffers. For the sake of a healthy democracy, it's time to invoke Yogi Berra's caution: It ain't over till it's over.
The Democratic New York senator has worked hard to get to this point, a position that has its advantages. A presumptive winner in the primaries commands campaign dollars and media attention (though the latter can be a mixed blessing). This necessarily weakens competitors, who are then forced to spend less time promoting themselves and more time trying to knock out the frontrunner (another mixed blessing).
Historically, the early leader usually bags the nomination, though there may be some stumbles along the way. That's why a string of candidates – both Bushes, Al Gore, Bob Dole, and Walter Mondale, to name a few – worked to create the perception of presumed nominee.
When Senator Clinton took the usually slow summer fundraising season and turned it into a record-setting clam rake, when she appeared on five Sunday talk shows in one morning last month, when even President Bush spoke of her as the one to beat – then she must have known she was wearing that invisible crown of inevitability.
But there's danger in perceived early coronation. It can dampen the competitiveness of campaigns and ideas.