IT'S JUST a hunch, but for months I've been wondering whether Ed Rendell is gearing up to run for office again.

The last time I had thoughts about Pennsylvania's governor setting his sights on higher office, he'd just been elected mayor, but had already aimed his sights toward the governor's mansion, having lost the race once before. This time, I'm wondering if he might be eyeing Washington - as Hillary Clinton's running mate. That's of course, if Bill Clinton doesn't join her on a ticket instead.

Let me explain.

Anyone who's spent any time observing Pennsylvania's governor knows how ambitious he is. He's also plenty cozy with the Clintons (and we know how ambitious they are). We've been seeing a lot of Rendell on TV recently - more than you'd normally expect from a governor who'll leave office in a few months. And, despite what she's said about never running for president again, never's a very long time, and I've never believed for a moment that Hillary Clinton's eye isn't still fixed on the White House.

I'm not the only journalist who believes she's still gunning to return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson shared similar thoughts over the weekend when MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews asked his Sunday roundtable of political reporters about President Obama's ability to "recoup the magic he had when he ran for president but has continued to lose since he's been in office." (My bet's that Obama will get a second wind like he did when his numbers plunged during his campaign.)

Most of Matthews' guests were adamant that they think its unlikely Obama won't run for a second term because it will take at least eight years to clean up the mess that President Bush left behind.

But Gerson doesn't count Clinton out of making a second presidential run. (As far-fetched as it seems, I've often wondered if Obama had cut a deal with Secretary of State Clinton that, if things didn't go well during his administration, he'd back her instead of running again himself.)

Which brings me to why I think it's possible that Rendell might have something like that up his sleeve, because we all know how essential Pennsylvania is to winning the White House. Years ago, when he was "America's Mayor," I believed (and still do) Rendell was polishing his national brand appeal to one day seek higher office.

Today, even as a die-hard Democrat who supports this president, I have to admit that our ship is in heavy seas, and we all have to work hard to keep it from sinking.

If you believe the polls, November is looking incredibly bleak for the Democrats, but I still think there's a ray of hope.

The elections are still more than a month away, giving Democrats time to recapture the undecided voters who are key in Pennsylvania, both statewide and in many local races outside Philadelphia.

The Republicans took eight years to blow our economy to smithereens. It will take at least eight for Obama to fix the economy, so I hope he can get re-elected. But I do have to wonder if there may be another agenda in store for us if the Democrats do blow the midterms.

The Dems can win if they don't lose sight of their brand identity like the GOP has. The Bush agenda left the working class defenseless as industry after industry outsourced millions of jobs to other countries.

Meanwhile, Obama has taken a holistic approach to fixing America's problems, and that type of effort takes more time. The president's strategy for stimulating the economy features long-term sustainable ideas, yet his critics expect him to work overnight magic.

We'd all be foolish if our impatience led us to hand Washington back to the folks who broke things in the first place.

So I hope my hunch about Rendell and Hillary Clinton planning for a possible run together is dead wrong. What the country needs is for them to both put their heart and soul into helping Obama right this very wrong economy, and make the nation better for all of us.

Plus, I like Clinton as secretary of state. And I'm selfish. I'd like the governor to keep helping us here in Pennsylvania - even after he's left office.

Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor to the Daily News, and blogs about food at