There is, as is sometimes the case, a certain familiarity to the front of this week’s New York magazine.


The cover? An unflattering, too-close photograph of former Vice President Al Gore, the large red words “The Un-Hillary,” and the smaller white words, “President Al Gore?”


Where, we thought, have we seen this sort of thing before?


Ah, yes. The cover of the March 16, 2006 New York Times Magazine, which featured an unflattering, too-close photograph of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner and the words “The Anti-Hillary?” printed on a faux campaign pin Photoshopped onto Warner’s Photoshopped maroon jacket — and the smaller words, “Meet Mark Warner…”


According to a November 2005 New Republic cover (registration required), it is Sen. Russ Feingold who is “The Hillary Slayer” — a cover which depicted not a claustrophobic photograph, but rather cartoon renderings of an imposing, sword-wielding Clinton staring down a small-but-smiling, slingshot-wielding Feingold.


Faster than would-be candidates can race to embrace “The Not Hillary” mantle — indeed, before anyone, including “The Hillary,” has officially thrown their hat into the ring — political reporters are rushing to ordain “The Alternative” to the former First Lady (someone to best Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries or, in the case of the New Republic, someone who might at least damage her candidacy).


It’s all part of the speculative run-up to primary season when there isn’t much for the political press to report. What’s a political reporter to do when the primaries themselves are nearly two years away? Why, hand out meaningless titles! Or declare — with a little help from pollsters, think-tankers, and anonymous sources (including once and future campaign managers) — “This is the one to watch.”


The congealing conventional wisdom has it that for the Democrats, 2008 will be a battle between Hillary and “The Un-Hillary” — with the winner going on to face, perhaps, “The Un-Bush,” as The Rocky Mountain News in December dubbed Mitt Romney, current Massachusetts Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate. (Or, as Matt Bai wrote in the above-mentioned New York Times Magazine piece — a refrain echoed in more than one article before and since — “And so the conventional thinking holds that there may only be room for two serious candidates by the time the primaries roll around: Hillary and the anti-Hillary.”)


If that’s the case, who can blame reporters for trying to unmask the real “Un-Hillary”? After all, these are the same boys and girls who love their guessing games (see: Veepstakes) above all else.


So, what does being “The Anti-Hillary” or “The Un-Hillary” actually entail? Depends who you ask. Here is a quick run down, a cheat-sheet of sorts, to help us all keep the current cast of “Anti-Hillaries” straight.


To Warner watchers in the press, what makes the former Virginia governor “The Anti-Hillary” is actually his resemblance to Clinton (as in, Bill). The New York Times Magazine summarized Warner as “Centrist Democrat, Southern Governor, National Unknown. Can He Be the Bill Clinton of 2008?” (Power of suggestion: The week after Bai’s piece ran, the Washington Post referred to Mark Warner in passing as “the hot ‘anti-Hillary’ candidate these days” and, that same week, CNN’s Bill Schneider called Warner “a hot prospect” for the “role” of “the un-Hillary, a moderate alternative who can claim to be more electable.”) Last July, Stephen Moore wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Gov. Warner’s pitch is thoroughly Clintonian — Bill, not Hillary” and quoted “one Democratic political strategist” saying that if Warner gets in to the 2008 race, “there is a real possibility that he emerges as the primary alternative to Hillary Clinton.”


Feingold is “The Un-Hillary” (or the “Hillary Slayer,” if you prefer), apparently, because he is Howard Dean-esque. According to the New Republic, Feingold’s shot at the nomination may be “slim,” but “[w]hat Feingold can do is make life miserable for the other Democrats who seek [the nomination]. … In 2008, perhaps Feingold will play the role of Dean to Clinton’s Kerry, battering her image and dragging her further left than she can afford to go.”

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.