A series of The New York Times articles a week ago asked a simple question: if Hillary Clinton is defeated for the Democratic presidential nomination, who could be the first female president of the United States?

The articles offer a cast of possibles – Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, former eBay executive and McCain fundraiser Meg Whitman. A variety of particular hurdles are also raised, including the practical balancing of the benefits of being a mother against the age of her children (not too young as to need “caring for”), the unspoken need for women to meet a higher bar of experience, a required post-feminist mentality coupled with a consciousness of gender politics and a demeanor deemed tough enough to be Commander-in-Chief.

Democrats increasingly lament the perfect storm of 2008 that produced two viable “first” candidates, each of whom would represent a monumental leap forward in the evolution of leadership in the country and the conception of the Oval Office.

In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa after his primary victory in Oregon, a conciliatory Obama reminded his faithful that Clinton “has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age, and for that we are grateful to her.” On May 20, the group WomenCount took out a full-page ad in The New York Times asking Clinton not to quit the race, branding her their last best hope on the horizon.

The questions that may remain unanswered after 2008 are those of when and whom. How long until a Madame President, and what kind of candidate will ultimately emerge from the double-standards and added scrutiny that seem prerequisite challenges for any woman running for the office?