Perhaps the third time’s the charm. Just when we mourned our second lost opportunity to pit Rudy Giuliani against Hillary Clinton in a general election, we may have one last chance to see them go toe to toe. Democrats want to convince Hillary to pull out of the presidential race and prepare for a likely special election to replace David Paterson as governor of New York, at least according to Jonathan Alter (via Joe Gandelman):

Some Democrats terrified that their bloody primary campaign will doom them in November are floating a consolation prize for Hillary Clinton: governor of New York.

The travails of New York Gov. David Paterson have opened up a new potential career path for Clinton, according to well-informed Democratic Party insiders who refused to allow their names to be used when discussing contingencies. They want her to consider the option if she concludes after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary that she cannot overtake Barack Obama for the party’s presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton, while fully committed to continuing her presidential campaign, was said to be open to discussing the idea, while Bill Clinton rejected it out of hand.

With former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani now reported by the New York Post to be weighing a race for governor, voters could see a Clinton-Giuliani matchup after all.

This makes pretty good sense, although I doubt that the Clintons will be smart enough to take the out. If successful, it gives Hillary an opportunity to garner executive experience on her own, rather than rely on her series of lies about Tuzla and S-CHIP to convince people that she has any more relevant experience than Barack Obama. It also gives her a place outside of the Beltway to call home while Obama fails in a general election bid, making her a stronger candidate for 2012 against a 75-year-old McCain.

The risks, though, are considerable. First, Paterson hasn’t resigned, and may not even with the national party pressuring him to do so. He would have to resign relatively soon in order to have the special election in November, certainly well before the convention. Lastly, if Rudy does enter the race, she has only a marginally better chance of winning that election than she does of winning the nomination in Denver.

The bigger question is where this idea originated. Is it real, or is it the fevered imagination of the Obama oppo team? It’s a great rumor to float by the Obama campaign for a number of reasons. It counts on Hillary torpedoing a black governor in order to keep her political ambitions alive, a twist that will not go unremarked. It also paints her as the candidate of the sleazy back-room deal, contrasting her with Obama’s purported New Politics.

It’s a trap. And if Rudy runs against her, it might be the last one of her political career.