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With President Barack Obama's surprisingly listless performance in the presidential debate Wednesday night, the stars are coming closer into alignment for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

His path to the White House would be ever so much easier if Obama were to lose in November.

Most Missourians seem oblivious to the fact that Nixon is on the short list for potential Democratic nominees in 2016. Maybe it's because we tend to think of presidents as larger-than-life characters, and we know Nixon too well to think of him that way. He's been around forever.

He first ran statewide in 1988. He ran for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Jack Danforth. He got clobbered.

But that was all right. Nixon was only 32. He was just learning.

Four years later, he became attorney general, and he has been with us ever since. After serving as attorney general for 16 years, he successfully ran for governor in 2008.

If he wins re-election in November, and he's heavily favored to do so, he will be term-limited out in 2016.

He will be 60 years old.

That's a nice age for a would-be president.

With his history of success in a Southern red state, he'd have an impressive resume.

Bear in mind the Democrats are generally successful only when they nominate a Southern governor. If you throw Obama out of the equation — you think a black man with a middle name of Hussein is not an outlier? — you have to go back to 1964 to find a successful Democratic presidential nominee who was not coming from a Southern statehouse. And maybe Lyndon Johnson shouldn't count. He was already president when he ran.

That's not to say Nixon won't have plenty of competition for the nomination.

Who else is on the short list? Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is frequently mentioned. But can a liberal from New York win a national election?

Hillary Clinton is a possibility, but she'll be 69, and that's getting a little old for somebody running for a first term.

In that regard, Biden will be 74.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia are often touted as possibilities.

So far, Nixon has been under the radar. While some of the others — especially O'Malley and Warner — did the breakfast circuit at the convention, Nixon played it cool. He pretty much stayed away.

If you've seen Nixon's ads in this campaign, you have a pretty good idea how he'd campaign in the primaries four years from now.

"They're doing it wrong in Washington. They're fighting. In Missouri, we worked together. I worked with a Republican legislature. ..."

Of course, everybody who isn't in Washington says that. George W. Bush was a uniter, not a divider. Candidate Obama said we weren't red states or blue states, but the United States.

Reaching across the aisle is not realistic in these hyper-partisan times, but the idea of working together appeals to people.

So with a good resume and an appealing pitch, Nixon might have a decent chance of getting the nomination.

But if Obama were to win re-election, how much is the nomination really worth?

Eight years is usually enough for one party. Plus, all the Republican big hitters who sat out this election will be in the hunt in 2016.

Think how strong Jeb Bush would be. Always called the smartest of the Bush brothers, he brings the whole Bush coalition back together. He takes Florida out of the mix.

He's fluent in Spanish. He has a Mexican wife. His victory would mean a First Lady of Mexican descent. There goes the Democratic advantage with Latino voters.

But if Obama were to lose next month, the picture changes dramatically. The Democratic nominee in 2016 would be facing Mitt Romney.

What if Romney doesn't turn things around in four years? What if some of our problems go deeper than politics?

Then the country might look to shake things up again.

Maybe the country will look toward a man from De Soto, a Methodist, a lifelong hunter, a governor who never raised taxes, a conservative Democrat who consistently won in a red state and managed to co-exist with a Republican legislature. Sixty years old. Seasoned, but not yet old.

"They're doing it wrong in Washington," he'll say.

It's still a longshot, but the odds got a little bit shorter with Obama's listless performance Wednesday night.