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Hillary Clinton says she'll decide on 2016 around January 1. Maybe.

What’s she really saying with today’s 'announcement' is that sometime next year she might surprise everyone and say she’s dropping out of a pre-presidential contest she’s already engaged in.

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    Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the scholarship recipients of the Telmex Foundation during the annual Mexico XXI Century event, hosted by billionaire Carlos Slim, in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014.
    Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
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Stop the servers! Hillary Clinton is going to announce whether she is going to run for president on Jan. 1, or shortly thereafter.

Or maybe later than “shortly thereafter.” This bears watching, as time will tell.

OK, we’re being a bit snarky there, but when it comes to the former Secretary of State and a possible try for the White House even a vague bit of new semi-specificity can make news. And the US political world is chattering today about the hint Hillary dropped in Mexico during an appearance at a charity event.

Asked several times if she planned to run, Clinton said, “I am going to be making a decision around probably after the first of the year.”

Immediately the mediasphere was full of posts with heads like “Hillary says will announce around January 1.” Which is a true statement, given her words.

But . . . is this new? She’s said in the past she wouldn’t announce until next year. Now she’s saying that she won’t announce until at least the day after the next year begins. Or “around” after then, which could be November, depending on your definition of “around.”

We agree completely with political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, who thinks all this coyness on the part of candidates is a mask over their true attitudes.

Clinton is running for 2016 already, and has been since she quit the State Department, Bernstein writes today. What’s she really saying with today’s “announcement” is that sometime next year she might surprise everyone and say she’s dropping out of a pre-presidential contest she’s already engaged in.

There are good legal and strategic reasons for this. Campaign-finance laws discourage an early start, for one. Coyness freezes intra-party competition, as possible rivals such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley can’t poach donors or activists whose first choice is Clinton. It shortens the glad-handing campaign grind.

Nor is she the only one doing this. On the GOP side, everyone from Rand Paul to Rick Perry is popping up to New Hampshire just to pick up some maple syrup and maybe meet a few voters. As Bernstein says, what everybody’s running for is to remain viable into 2016, when primary voting starts.

Their upcoming decision isn’t whether to run; it’s whether to drop out.

“I understand the reasons for this charade of not deciding yet. But I see no reason the rest of us should play along,” writes Bernstein in his Bloomberg View column.

Jeb Bush matched Clinton today in this regard, by the way. The Wall Street Journal has a piece that says he’s “sending signals” about a 2016 run.

In sum, this signal is: I haven’t made up my mind, but I might run, so all you big-bucks contributors and possible state campaign chiefs, don’t go to work for Marco Rubio.

Bush’s proponents apparently want to squash speculation that he’s already decided to drop out of the 2016 mix.

“I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he runs, and that is based on some conversations I’ve had with members of the Bush family,” Bush supporter Jim Nicholson told the Journal.

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