Imagine the shoe were on the other foot.

Imagine it were President Bill Clinton and his administration who, under pressure from Congressional Democrats to “leverage the Internet,” put an archive of captured enemy documents on line that in fact spelled out secret research on how to build a nuclear weapon.

And imagine it were the Washington Times and not the New York Times that brought this to the government’s attention and lead to its shutdown.

Oy vey?

Would Sean ever stop talking about it? Would O’Reilly explode?

Would the Republicans pull every one of their election-eve ads to instead ask the question: Are these the folks you trust to fight terrorism?

They did that with a stupid, botched joke; and what’s a botched joke, bad though it was, compared to a guide to building a nuclear weapon?

So will the Democrats play just as hard?

You can’t blame the liberal media for your own mistakes. You can’t relegate this one to dirty campaign tactics. It is the central issue. It does matter. It goes to the justification for the war, the question of why we are there, issues of competence and security.

In this case, had it not been for independent scientists and the New York Times, the threat would remain. For reasons that as yet remain unexplained, officials had not yet acted until they realized that the press was aware of the apparent security breach.

It will be not only her acceptance speech as a second term senator, but her introduction as a would-be presidential candidate. And that introduction has obviously been complicated in recent days by the introduction of her first real challenger for the crown, the junior senator from Illinois, the other rock star, Barack Obama.

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Count me in the minority of Hillary-watchers, but I think Obama’s entry in the race is good for the erstwhile frontrunner, particularly if it becomes the occasion for her to bring expectations back to earth and run as a normal sized candidate.

There are two possibilities in a Clinton-Obama contest. One of course is that Hillary loses, in which case that is the best thing that could happen to Democrats; if she cannot defeat the first termer from Illinois, charismatic though he may be, then her negatives are too high among Democrats to risk among Republicans. She loses, we win.

If on the other hand her experience counts and the candidate who has been campaigning in New York is the one you see Tuesday night and the one who emerges in a closely fought and much watched primary campaign, then that Hillary Clinton can win the nomination and the election. The Hillary Clinton who has emerged in this campaign and as the successful senator from New York in the last six years is not a polarizing figure in that state but an overwhelmingly popular and moderate one, well-liked by urban, suburban and even rural voters.

She is relaxed, comfortable, and energetic, the opposite of the caricature she was six years ago, even there.

It will be a different kind of campaign than it would be without Obama, but Hillary needs that kind of campaign to accomplish that kind of transformation in the eyes of voters nationally. She needs more attention, not less. She needs to win, not slide, to the nomination. If she can’t beat Obama, it's best she doesn’t get it. If she does, she’ll be the stronger for it.

As has become so painfully apparent, beating John Kerry would signal nothing at all. The only question after this latest incident is whether, when the dust settles, he is a candidate at all in anyone's eyes but his own.

Hillary needs an opponent worthy of her, an opponent worthy of the race, so that she can accomplish in a year what it has taken her six years to do in New York.

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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 the just published "Soulless," "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.

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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.

A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.

Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.