So, will Hillary Clinton be on the ticket? To answer that question, we have to figure out the right question to ask.

(1) Does Clinton want to be vice president?

It's clear that she is open to the possibility, as she says; it's probable that she hasn't had the time to contemplate the question with attention to all of the personal, professional and psychic ramifications -- what it would mean for her, her family, what she would do, what Bill would do? A person very close to Clinton, someone who talks to her regularly, someone who is reliable, said that Clinton ultimately does not want, in the sense of an affirmative desire, to be vice president, but would never turn down an offer.... in other words, she is an American and a patriot and a loyal Democrat and would not refuse a chance like that to serve her country.

(2) Would Clinton accept the vice presidency if it were offered?

At this point, yes, say her aides and advisers. She wants to do what's necessary to unite the Democratic Party, and the consequences of refusing an invitation would be pretty terrible.

(3) Would Obama consider her, seriously?

At this point, no. Judging by the attitude of those who are advising him, what turns Obama off the most about the Clintons generally is the sense that the party was hers and her sense of desert that she is owed something. Some Obama advisers were very much turned off by the presence of vice presidential talk yesterday although they attribute this more to Clinton's advisers than to Clinton. From my first interviews with Obama advisers and members of his family, I've gotten an overwhelming sense that President Clinton's Oval Office dalliance with Monica Lewinsky deeply offended them and that the incident, its effect on the country, and its aftermath, shape in many ways the Obama family's view of the Clintons today. (It is certainly true of some of his staff members.)

The thinking in the Obama campaign is that the party will, over the next few weeks, coalesce around Obama; that the fervor to put her on the ticket will diminish; that right now, the active phase of speculation is driving most of the unity talk, and if Obama, by mid-summer, has a comfortable lead in the polls, the demands will die down, especially if he treats her with respect.

(4) So how does he treat with respect?

He vets her, or he indicates that he will vet her, and he vets at least one of her supporters -- perhaps Gov. Strickland of Ohio; he promises her a prime-time speaking slot; he offers to let her shepherd his health care plan through Congress; he promises her regular input in his decisions.

(5) There will be lots of pressure on Obama to change his mind, though.

Unquestionably. And since we're in the moment, a lot of it is to be expected. You can be sure that Obama will do nothing rash, and that whatever he decides, he's going to take lots of time. If the pressure on him does not abate and if the support of a good chunk of the 17 million Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton does not migrate to him by the middle of July, then Obama might find himself in a quandary.

(6) So basically, the answer to the original question is: if Obama can coalesce the Democratic Party before he needs to pick a vice president, there's almost no chance that he will pick Hillary Clinton.

That's pretty much it, yes.

(7) What's the next step?

Well, Clinton wants a one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama at his soonest convenience to discuss her exit from the race.

You can expect some of her supporters to very aggressively and almost ungraciously spout the opinion that she is owed the vice presidency. I do not know whether Clinton herself will sanction these endeavors.

There may be a movement by her supporters to place her name in contention for the vice presidential nomination even if Obama nominates someone else.

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