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Did Rand Paul just pre-announce presidential announcement plans? (+video)

Rand Paul just set the clock ticking to get his faithful excited – and give the political pros a few weeks to decide whether to sign on. But make no mistake, Senator Paul, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, et al, are running for president already.

Is Rand Paul going to officially announce his presidential bid on April 7? That’s what The New York Times is reporting. On that early spring day, Senator Paul is likely to declare his candidacy in his home state of Kentucky, then jet off on a round of campaigning in the usual suspect states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, according to the Times. At this point, only objections from family members could halt the process.

“Mr. Paul ... will take the next month to continue talking with members of his family about whether they are comfortable moving forward with the exhausting and, at times, agonizing rigors of a modern presidential campaign,” writes the Times’s Jeremy W. Peters.

Should we believe this story? After all, it’s based on anonymous “associates of the senator,” which seems a bit vague.

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But we’d judge it true, at least for the moment. Paul himself often talks about how agonizing a presidential run can be, so that idea could have come straight from his own mouth. The news leak, with its brave pronouncement of an actual date, seems semi-official. It’s as if the Paul campaign said, “get the Times to run this trial balloon up the flagpole and see if Jeb Bush salutes.”

Plus, April 7 makes sense. As the story notes, it’s the beginning of a Federal Election Commission reporting period, so the bookkeeping is easier and there’s a full quarter of a year for fundraising before first results are made public.

But why announce the announcement? Why such a drawn-out process? It’s as if Paul is performing the Dance of the Seven Filibusters, as he coyly reveals his plans.

All the other likely candidates are doing the same thing, so we’re not picking on him here.

First, the announcement announcements (“Hillary to make up mind in seven months!” “Jeb will set a date to set another date in the spring!”) get news coverage. It’s no accident Rand Paul’s April 7 plan became public Wednesday, as Mr. Bush is planning a big foreign policy speech in Chicago.

Do you think Paul was trying to step on Bush’s news coverage here? Duh. It’s kind of a virtual photobomb.

Second, they convey progress without any legal or financial obligation. Once you really, truly declare that as of now you’re running for president, certain FEC obligations kick in. You have to stop playing so closely with your super political action committee.

Finally, they signal intentions to key members of your party and political circle. Paul has now set the clock ticking to get his faithful excited. Political pros know they have only a few weeks to decide whether to get jobs with Paul or someone else. The announcement sets a deadline for his organization to have policy and travel plans in place. It gives donors a timetable to plan their giving.

But really, Paul, Clinton, Bush, et al, are running for president already.

They may stop because they it turns out they don’t have as much support in their party as they thought. (That might have been what happened to Mitt Romney.) They may stop because they just change their minds, or their polls are awful.

None of them are sitting at a desk making “pro” and “con” lists about White House 2016, though. That decision point is long in the past.

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