Election 2006 will be over in two weeks with the election results likely to provide the catalyst for many of the machinations we will see over the next 12 months in positioning for who will be the next president of the United States.

With the implosion of Sen. George Allen, the Republican side has settled around the "Big Three" of Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Romney has been the chief benefactor from Allen's demise, and with McCain and Giuliani on his left flank, Romney is well positioned to run as the conservative candidate. This is not an insignificant asset given that conservatives dominate the Republican nominating process. The unknown of how much his religion will be a factor and his lack of national security leadership experience will keep him from getting too far ahead of the field were he to have a nice run the next 12 months.

However it is McCain who has had the best several weeks of any candidate in either party. The North Korean nuke provided McCain with an opportunity to burnish his national security pedigree and, more importantly from a nomination standpoint, an opportunity to be partisan.

McCain's overtly less-partisan style may win him points with the Beltway media and independents but it is a big-time negative with the conservative base he is going to need to win the GOP nomination. His recent attacks on the Clintons over North Korea warmed conservative attitudes toward McCain measurably.

But even better for McCain than Kim Jong-Il's nuke, the Foley scandal destroyed Republican momentum at a critical time in the campaign and completely threw the GOP back on its heels heading into the midterm homestretch. With the possibility of a Democratic takeover of Congress having risen considerably these last few weeks McCain is well positioned to pick up the pieces from a dispirited and angry Republican party if they indeed lose two weeks from today.

At the end of the day McCain's biggest appeal to Republicans in the fight for the nomination will be his claim (credibly) that he can win in 2008. And a Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid could be all McCain needs to convince enough nervous conservatives to get behind him to ensure blowing the Democrats out of the water in 2008.

Which brings us to the Clintons and where the Democratic race for the nomination stands. The Clintons are the 800 pound gorilla in the Democratic field and as long as Sen. Hillary Clinton is running for president it is difficult to see how anybody else ends up with the nomination.

But while that assertion holds true, there is no question that Clinton's grip on the nomination has slipped these last 12 months, and she is not as much the lock she was a year ago. What is really fascinating when gaming out the Clinton's strategy to win back the White House is how they deal with the very real possibility of a McCain nomination. And really the only way Hillary Clinton can "deal" with a McCain nomination and still preserve her White House options is not to run in 2008.

This brings us to talk of Sen. Barack Obama on "Meet the Press."

"MR. HARWOOD: ...I talked to a former top aide to Bill Clinton last night who said Barack Obama will run in 2008, Hillary Clinton will not. So we'll see what happens there.

MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton will not?

MR. HARWOOD: That was his prediction."

Obama is clearly the hottest thing to hit the Democratic Party and the Washington media in a long time, which means he is a clear threat to the Clinton's dominance of the party. If Clinton passes up her 2008 opportunity because of a calculated decision she is a loser to McCain in a general election, she does not want to have to face a red-hot and primed Obama in the 2012 primaries. Better to let Obama get his shot in 2008 and have him go down against McCain.

To play with this scenario further a President McCain might really be one of the best ways for Hillary Clinton to win the presidency. The seeds for Bill Clinton's successful White House run were laid with the open warfare between conservatives and the first President Bush, epitomized by Pat Buchanan's sizable 35 percent in the 1992 New Hampshire GOP primary.

Given McCain's temperament and history there is a very good chance conservatives would be thoroughly disgusted with a President McCain heading into 2012, laying the table perfectly for Hillary Clinton to win the White House after 12 years of Republican rule.

This may all be a little Machiavellian for some, but the chess pieces are moving on the 2008 presidential board. With the odds of McCain winning the GOP nomination greatly improved by a Republican rout in '06, the possibility that Hillary Clinton may indeed take a pass on 2008 has to be more seriously considered.