You may have noticed that even though the Iowa caucuses are still hours away, the news media have already given Al Gore and George W. Bush a whopping victory. Sadly, we live in an era of ants-in-the-pants journalism, in which you're certain to be scooped and possibly fired if you wait until an event actually OCCURS before giving the results. This offends me. Let's take it one state at a time, people.

That said, I think it's obvious that the 2000 campaign is pretty much a done deal, and that Gore and Bush will be the nominees this summer and that Gore will win by 5 to 8 percentage points in the fall.

Admittedly, there are some important matters left unresolved. No one yet knows what the final accounting will be of the Steve Forbes candidacy, in terms of dollars spent per convention delegate. A million? Four million? Likewise it is unclear if Bill Bradley will pull out of the race after the March 7 primaries, or much sooner.

Most mysterious is the Orrin Hatch situation. No one of such senatorial stature and heft, with so many appearances on "Meet the Press," has ever managed to attract such feeble and pitiful support in a presidential bid. Hatch at this point cannot even be mentioned in the same breath as such past senators-turned-presidential-candidates as Joe Biden and Dick Lugar. Is the U.S. Senate that reviled? Or is this a protest against Hatch's bizarre night job as a lyricist?

But these are all minor details. Everyone knows the big picture. The economy is thriving, the Republicans are still viewed as beholden to scary people on the extreme far right, and with the Reform Party siphoning from the GOP the votes of cranks, anarchists, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists and water-dowsers, a plurality of the electorate will default to the safest, more boring candidate -- someone who you can easily imagine wearing a bike helmet while riding in the back of a limo.

The real question before us is what will happen in 2004. Could the American people actually stomach a fourth term for the Clinton-Gore White House? Would Gore have the good sense to make way for younger talent, or would he, like the previous vice-president who became a president, cling too long to his scepter?

Surely you remember that Bush the Elder in 1992 lacked pizzazz. Though fundamentally a frisky person, he had an old man's antipathy to new ideas. Now look at Gore. Gore in November 2004 will be only 56 years old. (We know this in part because alert readers have pointed out that he was born precisely 9 months after the mysterious crash of a flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico.) But Gore seemed like a forty-year-old when he was a teenager. At 56 he'll seem as old as Milton Berle. In the normal course of a professional career he might not even be a CEO yet, but presidential politics, having become an extension of the entertainment industry LINK TO RESULTS OF GOLDEN GLOBES http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/style/A19712-2000Jan24.html, increasingly will favor candidates who look and act like Leonardo DiCaprio.

The wild card, of course, is Hillary Clinton. She is already the presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2004 or, at the latest, 2008. She's smart and articulate, and her only problem is her known allegiance to Trotsky. Her disastrous loss later this year in the New York senate race may also prove chastening over the short run. She's going to look like pastrami when Rudy gets finished with her.

But remember Nixon. He lost to Kennedy in 1960 and then lost against Pat Brown in the California governor's race in 1962, but he was still the savviest, sneakiest night crawler on the continent. For years to come, our Nixon figure will be Bill Clinton. He's constitutionally barred from the White House, but he has no other job prospects and may be unhirable due to his status as a suspected criminal mastermind. He doesn't even have a home. He'll push Hillary to run and will serve, for free, as her personal Carville.

Beyond that I hesitate to make predictions, but what strikes me is that many of our politicians today have been serious breeders, and thus there are likely to be Kennedys and Bushes and Gores running around for decades. Chelsea Clinton's assumption of certain social functions at the White House obviously prefigures future political ambitions. What's harder to know is what will happen when artificial intelligence reaches the point that machines are granted the right to vote and then sue for their own political representation.

You can see where it's all going: A four-way presidential race between a Democrat, a Republican, a Reform Party freakazoid and Microsoft Candidate 3.0. An artificial candidate wouldn't tire on the campaign trail, or make gaffes during debates the way a meat-based candidate would. Asked what it would do about the taxes, an artificial candidate could describe the federal budget LINE FOR LINE and tell the questioner what his or her monthly Social Security check will be at retirement.

Again, I don't want to get too far ahead of the game, but there is going to come a moment, several hundred million years from now at least, when the sun itself will begin to cool down and, perversely, expand. The radiating sphere of the sun will fry and eventually consume the Earth. Then what? So far the Democrats and Republicans have been silent about this. Clearly there is an opening here for a epochal victory by the Reform Party, and its leader, Jesse Ventura MCMLVIII.

(Rough Draft appears three times a week at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com and, if all goes as planned, will report next from New Hampshire, even though all the conclusions are forgone.)