There is a new name on Democrats’ lips. Or rather, an old one. He is the one man who could stop Hillary Clinton.

If. If he runs. If the stars are right. But he could.

He is, of course, Al Gore.

He is already polling. No one hates her more. Just kidding, of course. But no love lost. Remember, he could’ve won in 2000 if he’d let Clinton help, and it was almost clear at the time. But he wouldn’t.

Consider the alternatives. Mark Warner, who was the flavor of the month until the New York Times gave him its worst kiss, is trying to challenge Hillary from the center-right. But the skew in Democratic nomination politics is from the left, not the right.

Who goes out to vote in a Democratic caucus or primary? The same kinds of people who go out to vote in Republican caucuses and primaries. Activists.

Democratic activists tend to be left wing, Republicans right-wing. Centrists who run for president as Democrats get no votes; think Lieberman, Bruce Babbitt, Lloyd Bentsen, for example. They often, however, get great press.

John Kerry is going nowhere. His money people are heading for the Hills, or Hillary. John Edwards has one note, and voted the same way as Hillary on the war. Warner is wed to the middle. Were it not for Gore, if Gore goes away, Hillary looks to cruise.

But Gore could change that.

So what if he went to Saudi Arabia and criticized America? That’s for Rush and Bill to worry about next fall.

Swift Boats. Gore deprives Hillary of administration bragging rights. He’s got the same ones, without the baggage. And then he’s got the right position on the war, and the superstar record on the environment to boot.

Add to that some liberal Hollywood money, and he gives her a run for hers.

The problem is: then what? No one fits Hugh Hewitt’s stereotype of the losing angry Democrat better than Al Gore. The place to win elections in this country is not the left but the middle. You want to lose for sure, run to Hillary’s left.

Beware Confident Democrats

Watch out fellow Democrats. You’re starting to sound like winners. This is when we get in trouble. Don’t count the Republicans out. It’s a long way to November.

Remember what the Republicans have going for them.

ONE: The White House. I know, the president’s poll numbers are low. But he still controls the power of the presidency. That means that any Congressman who is in trouble can deliver goodies at the last minute to his district from any department or agency in the government.

I’ll never forget Anne Wexler’s famous comment from the painful days of the Carter-Kennedy battle: "Is this an election or an auction?"

All politics is local? You may not want to be seen with the president, but everybody wants to be seen delivering the pork chops, excuse me, the goodies. And goodies there will be, between now and Election Day, for every Republican who is in trouble.

TWO: Money. I know, Democrats are raising it too. But corporate America has every interest in seeing Republicans maintain their control of Congress. Who is for a higher minimum wage? Who is against it? Do you have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out?

Do you know that it was Democrats who insisted on preserving PACs in the first campaign finance bill because they thought labor would be able to trump corporate America? Fools R us. Within a year, corporate PACs outnumbered labor PACs by 10-1. And that was just the beginning.

How hard will the business community fight? Read my lips. Hard.

THREE: Organization. They have lists. We don’t. They have infrastructure. We don’t. In this game, they’re at home plate, having already rounded the bases, we’re almost at first base. They know what issues individual voters care about, how to appeal to them, what makes swing voters swing, who they are and how to get them out at the last minute.

You know how Amazon sends you those emails saying that if you liked one book, you’ll probably like two more. Republicans can do the same thing. Democrats can’t.

Harold Ickes, Hillary’s consigliere, has formed an organization outside the party, to try to catch up; the fact that it is outside the party tells you more than you want to know about what the party is doing, see below.

FOUR: Coordination and Focus. According to published reports, it wasn’t pretty at last week’s meeting between Congressional Campaign Chiefs Rahm Emmanuel and Chuck Schumer and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Why would it be? They don’t share the same vision.

Dean is embarked on a 50-state party building program which, if nothing else, ensures him the support of the party pooh-bahs in the 50 states who love him. Problem is, if you’re trying to win Congress back, or win the next presidential election, for that matter, you need to focus on states where you can win, which doesn’t include all 50; you need to focus, and you need to be coordinated, which the Democrats aren’t.

So for all intents and purposes, the DNC is out of the game of trying to win elections any time in the near term, but Howard Dean is safe in his job.

FIVE: The Advantages of Triangulation? I’m not sure I buy this one, but I actually know one Republican (a friend of a friend) who is working for a Democratic Congress as the surest way to stop Hillary in ’08. He figures that if the Democrats win Congress, the voters will be determined to provide balance in ’08 by electing a Republican President. Now that’s what I call a Dick Morris stretch...

California Dreaming...

Not to say I told you so, but with no real differences on issues between them, Democrats Phil Angelides and Steve Westley have resorted to tearing each other apart in the last of their debates that no one is paying attention to, while in Sacramento, the Comeback Kid, Arnold, keeps coming back.

He’s doing everything right. He not only got his bond deal, but both Phil Angelides and Steve Westly endorsed it. Now he’s taken extra tax dollars and given them back to the schools. This is one of those primaries that makes the candidates look smaller and smaller, while the incumbent looks bigger and bigger.

If the country goes south for Republicans in November, California could be the only bright spot.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the Fox News Channel.

Respond to the Writer