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Friday, December 9, 2016

If you’re Hillary Clinton, you pinched yourself last week to awake from a strange and wondrous dream. Except it wasn’t a dream.

Mitt Romney really has been calling up rich conservative donors to tell them he wants to run for president — again.

If you’re Hillary Clinton, you broke into a wide grin that stayed on your face all day, because the news seemed too good to be true. Mitt Romney is seriously going to try one more time?

“Thank you, God,” is what Hillary was thinking.

Not because Mitt Romney is likely to become the Republican nominee in 2016, but rather because he’ll be competing for the same mainstream primary voters and the same big money that Jeb Bush is chasing.

And anybody who can get in Jeb’s way makes life easier for Hillary.

Jeb is definitely not whom she wants to face in the election. Among potential GOP candidates he’s currently the only one who could beat her in Florida — and it’s practically impossible to win the White House without winning Florida.

Just ask Romney. Or John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore and Bob Dole.

The last presidential candidate to take the Sunshine State but lose the national election was Jeb Bush’s father back in 1992.

If you’re Hillary, you’re nervous about Jeb because he remains well liked in Florida although he hasn’t campaigned for office in more than a decade.

Hillary is sharp enough to know that Jeb got to be governor — and was easily re-elected — by drawing thousands of crossover votes from Florida Democrats. She would rather not test the durability of his popularity in Florida, or nationally.

It would be ideal for her if the Republicans nominated a Tea Party hothead, thus alienating millions of American voters except for the cranky old white people who listen to Rush Limbaugh.

If that happened, Hillary could put her campaign on autopilot. She’d win in a landslide.

If you are her, you pray for the GOP to completely lose its marbles and choose somebody like Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz. This would be such a slam dunk that Hillary Democrats dare not mention the possibility for fear of jinxing it.

A race against even Romney could also be a breeze, though the odds are slim that the Republicans will give him another shot. Still, anything can happen in the primaries, especially since these knuckleheads insist on starting in Iowa, which demographically resembles Finland more than it does the United States.

If you’re Hillary, things were looking super solid for 2016 until Jeb started making moves like he was going to run. Now what do you do?

You had counted on locking up the huge Hispanic vote, yet here’s a Republican who speaks fluent Spanish and openly favors a more compassionate immigration policy than his party espouses. This will be a problem.

If Jeb were more like Romney, you could depend on him to flip-flop and retreat to an extreme position that would drive away Latino voters in droves. So far, though, Jeb hasn’t backed down.

While Sen. Marco Rubio and other possible GOP candidates are still whining about same-sex marriage, Jeb has wisely thrown in the towel and says it’s time to respect all sides of the debate, wishing the best for the couples now marrying.

If you’re Hillary, you want to pull your hair out. You never planned on running against a Republican who respected gays and lesbians. It’s not fair!

If Jeb sustains this tolerant tone, Hillary will be forced to devise a new attack strategy.

You can’t really slam him just for being another Bush without getting slammed yourself for being another Clinton. The fact that Bill is dear friends with Jeb’s dad, the elder George, also complicates that formula.

Nor can you slop any blame on Jeb for invading Iraq because that was his brother’s call — and you voted for it yourself as a senator. You totally fell for all that crap about weapons of mass destruction.

So scratch Bush fatigue off the list of campaign issues. Ditto for Iraq.

On education, Jeb supports the Common Core curriculum in defiance of the GOP’s right wing, eliminating another potential weapon from Hillary’s debate arsenal.

If you are her, you’re left hoping with all your soul that Romney muddies the center of the Republican Party, and saps prime attention and heavy money away from Jeb.

You can also hope that the Tea Party screamers bash Jeb so relentlessly during the primary season that his momentum is blunted. It’s not impossible for him to be overtaken by a more beatable candidate, which is to say any other candidate.

Even better, if you’re Hillary you are hoping that Jeb loses his spine, backpedals from these semi-reasonable positions and soon starts sounding like all his rivals.

It would be your dream scenario — Jeb morphs into Mitt, and together they morph into the woodwork. Without Jeb topping the GOP ticket, you’re golden in Florida and so is the path to the presidency.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson