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Dispense with the hoary notions that maybe she will decide for a quiet retirement as a Chappequa grandma, or the idea that there is any Democrat lurking in the shadows somewhere who could really derail Hillary Clinton’s march to the nomination. The former Secretary of State is all but certain to run for president—and nearly all but certain to become her party’s standard-bearer.

But with the Democratic presidential primary season fast approaching, Democrats inside and outside of Hillaryland are wondering precisely what kind of competition she will face as she heads toward the cornfields of Iowa. Will it be someone from the left—from the so-called “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party—testing out a message on reducing economic inequality and curbing the power of the big banks? Or will it be someone from the right, a Brian Schweitzer or Joe Manchin, promising a clean break from the Obama administration and more bipartisan comity in Congress?

For many Democrats, the hope is neither. As far as they are concerned, any primary opponent, from Joe Biden to Jim Webb, would ultimately suck up time and energy away from a Clinton candidacy. They remember what happened the last time Hillary appeared to have an easy shot at the White House, and her campaign was caught flat-footed by a young upstart from Illinois.

No one interviewed for this article thinks that particular lightning will strike twice—Clinton’s lead in polls this time is too great, top fundraisers are this time lining up behind her, and there is a sense among the party’s rank-and-file that 2016 is her time.

But that doesn’t mean that she won’t emerge wounded from the nomination process.

“Everybody thinks you benefit from a primary, but if it drains your resources, if it takes a long time, it pushes you away from where you want to be for a general election,” said Bob Shrum, who helped mastermind both Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s White House runs. “The great thing about not having a primary is that you still go out and run and spend money and you can really set the stage for a general election.”

In 2000, Shrum helped guide Gore, who as the sitting vice president had similar advantages to those Hillary has now, against a pesky challenge from the left from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. Gore won handily, but Bradley emerged as a media favorite. This time around, Clinton-backers are braced for a similar dynamic. At some point, even if Clinton’s only opponent is a relatively milquetoast figure like Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, he or she will have a moment. A bored and hungry media all but guarantees it. There will be a favorable poll, followed by a national magazine cover for the challenger, and breathless TV coverage wondering if Clinton’s poll numbers were inflated or if she was making the same mistakes she made last time.

Back in 2008, the long, drawn-out primary redounded to Democrats’ benefits. The Hillary/Obama race seemed almost general election-like in the way that it captivated the attention of the nation. The contest helped get millions of Americans to register to vote and tune into politics as the two barnstormed through places where Democrats had scarcely bothered to campaign before.

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