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2016 Democratic Field May Not Wait for Clinton

2016 Democratic Field May Not Wait for Clinton

By Scott Conroy - March 7, 2013

She is not an incumbent president -- or even currently employed -- but the deference fellow Democrats have afforded Hillary Clinton regarding a potential 2016 White House run has been something to behold.

With the official start of the next presidential campaign still three years away, friends and potential Democratic foes alike have bent over backwards to praise Clinton and talk up her chances of finishing what she started in her 2008 campaign -- and for good reason.

After all, Clinton’s resume arguably is as diverse and extensive as that of any White House hopeful in the history of American politics. No introductions would be necessary for the former first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state and almost president, as everyone well knows her name and her story.

In an interview with Don Imus in December, longtime Clinton family confidant and adviser James Carville suggested that the campaign for the Democratic nomination would be little more than a formality en route to Clinton’s coronation.

“I think the pressure on her to run for president is going to be enormous because I’ve not met a single Democrat that's not said, ‘Let Hillary run in 2016,’ ” Carville said. “ ‘We don’t want a primary. Let’s just go get this thing done.’ That’s the attitude across the country.”

After ending her State Department tenure with a popularity level that would have been unimaginable several years ago, Clinton would begin her second White House run with a set of advantages in experience, fundraising prowess, and institutional support that, taken together, are virtually unprecedented.

The word “inevitable” likely will come up even more than it did during the early stages of her 2008 run, when it appeared to most observers that the Democratic nomination was all but assured her.

But as was the case then, there will almost certainly be a contested Democratic primary in 2016, despite the assumption of Carville and others.

And though she will have a major say as to when that contest begins in earnest, Clinton is not necessarily in a position to wave the checkered flag.

“I’m not sure she’d freeze the field,” said Doug Hattaway, a senior strategist on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “We’ll wait to see what she does, but others will get started cultivating donors, staffers, and grassroots supporters. That would be a smart strategy, if you think you’ve got a shot at this, to put pressure on the perceived front-runner.”

Paul Begala -- an early backer of Clinton’s 2008 campaign 16 years after he and Carville helped steered her husband into the White House -- also suggested that Clinton might not have quite as long to make up her mind as is widely perceived.

“Hillary may be able to freeze the field, but Democratic activists are going to turn the heat up on her,” he said.

Begala noted that he could not recall a previous instance in which there was so much collective support within the Democratic Party for one candidate so far in advance of the presidential cycle. But politics is a fickle business, as he well knows.

“I can't go anywhere without someone asking me if Hillary will run -- in fact they not only ask me if she's running, they tell me to beg her to run,” Begala said before adding: “These nominations are never given away, and the 2016 Democratic nomination will only be won by fighting for it.”

As she mulls her future, the 65-year-old Clinton has little reason to rush into a decision, for the time being. After serving four years as the most-traveled secretary of state in the nation’s history, she has said several times that she is looking forward to enjoying some rest, and who could blame her?

When the famously hard-working political icon hits the public speaking circuit (as she is expected to do) in the coming months, she will earn fees of more than $200,000 per engagement, according to Buzzfeed. That amount is more than her annual salary as head of the State Department.

But the Clinton family is not exactly hurting for cash, as the former president has pulled in over $89 million from his own speaking engagements since leaving the White House in 2001, according to CNN. His wife’s speaking fees could end up surpassing his over time.

Clinton and her staff are already at work on a memoir that she plans to publish in the coming years -- an endeavor that likely will take up much of her time, in addition to the speaking circuit. But after her tome is published, the clock will begin to tick more loudly for Clinton.

“In my view, we will know if she's running by mid-2014,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. “And she certainly has that kind of space and time to decide.”

Clinton’s office has placed a conspicuous “thank you for visiting” message on the HillaryClinton.com home page, as advisers wait for the signal to re-launch in earnest.

In the meantime, a new generation of ambitious Democrats, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are set to become increasingly visible in what have thus far been groundwork-laying steps toward potential campaigns of their own.

And as trips to Iowa and New Hampshire make their way onto potential candidates’ schedules with greater regularity, the man who is technically next in line for the job of Democratic standard-bearer -- Vice President Joe Biden -- figures to become even more candid about his previously stated presidential ambitions.

In the end, the Democratic field is unlikely to wait for Clinton.

“She could mobilize support quicker than most, but presidential cycles are starting earlier and earlier, and you need a good 18 months to gear it all up, even as a front-runner,” Hattaway said. “A candidate with her following and stature can gear that infrastructure up more quickly than others, but not overnight.” 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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