Did Barack Obama send a subtle message to Hillary Clinton about the potential for her to join him on the Democratic ticket last night on CNN? The Guardian picked up on the nuance in Obama’s generous description of Hillary to Wolf Blitzer, all the way across the pond. The Obama campaign wants an end to the internecine battling and may have sent up the biggest signal yet that they’re prepared to cut a deal — or it could just be a gracious way out of a routine question:

Barack Obama yesterday gave the clearest hint yet that he may consider Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential running mate in the November election for the White House. With the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination close to finished as a contest, Obama began looking beyond his battles with Clinton to the one with the Republican John McCain.

There are six more primaries left on the Democratic calendar, but Obama has established such a formidable lead that Clinton is no longer realistically capable of overtaking him, and the US media were yesterday treating him as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The possibility of her serving as vice-president seemed unlikely until yesterday, given the personal bitterness that has grown between the two camps in the course of the campaign. But Obama, in an interview with NBC News, refused to rule out the prospect. “There’s no doubt that she’s qualified to be vice-president; there’s no doubt she’s qualified to be president,” he said.

In an interview with CNN , he said he had not yet wrapped up the Democratic nomination, but when he did he would start the process of selecting a running mate. “She is tireless, she is smart. She is capable. And so obviously she’d be on anybody’s shortlist to be a potential vice-presidential candidate,” he said.

Take a look at the moment for yourselves. Signal or boilerplate?

I’m still not convinced. Of course Obama will say nice things about Hillary; at some point he’ll have to live with her as a significant player in his party, but not necessarily as a running mate. Especially given the context of the question, in which his connection to working-class voters was questioned, he can hardly afford to say something dismissive. And stating that Hillary would be on “anyone’s short list” isn’t much of a concession, since the Democrats don’t have many high-profile options for a Barack Obama running mate, anyway.

At its core, the so-called “dream ticket” doesn’t do anything to enhance Obama’s chances. He will carry New York with or without her, and he’ll win the women’s vote as well. She’s beating Obama with working-class voters, but that doesn’t mean she’ll bring them along in a general election; if Obama is at the top of the ticket, they’re still going to remain very skeptical of him, especially when the McCain campaign points out just how far left both Democrats have drifted in the primary. She doesn’t bring any executive experience nor any legislative accomplishments to the ticket, two areas in which Obama needs help from any potential running mate — and her negatives give Republicans two broad targets instead of one.

Hillary may remain on the “short list”, but only desperation will put her on the ticket. Obama would be smarter to look for a popular, centrist Democratic governor who can carry a state that Obama may not otherwise get. Phil Bredesen from Tennessee might be one choice, or someone else in that mold. Janet Napolitano of Arizona might be an even better choice, although it’s hard to see her carrying Arizona over favorite son John McCain in November.