Hillary Clinton: the case for waiting until summer to enter presidential race

Democrats are eager to downplay the idea that the 2016 primary race will basically end up being a coronation for Hillary Clinton, but that’s exactly what it’s shaping up to be. And as long as it is, she can afford to wait.

John Raoux/AP/File
In this Oct. 20, 2008 file photo, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York delivers a speech supporting Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois for the Democratic presidential nomination at a rally in Orlando, Fla. If Clinton runs again, she says she'll work as hard as any underdog.

While the race for the Republican nomination for president appears to be beginning in earnest, prompted in no small part by early maneuvering by Jeb Bush and the increasing likelihood that Mitt Romney is indeed going to throw his hat in the ring for a third run at the White House, things have been fairly quiet on the Democratic side of the aisle. At most, the past several months have seen some talk of potential candidacies on the part of people such as former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, as well as some speculation that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders may enter the race. The “Ready for Warren” people continue to do their thing notwithstanding the fact that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said she’s not running for president. Vice-President Biden, meanwhile, has apparently not taken any real steps to put together a campaign organization. To a large degree, of course, the lack of action on the Democratic side of the race is due to the fact that everyone seems to be waiting to see what Hillary Clinton will do. At this point, the major shock to the Democratic field would be Clinton announcing that she isn’t running, since it would leave the party without a real front runner heading into 2016. The question, though, is when Clinton actually intends to enter the race, and a new Mike Allen piece at Politico suggests that she may delay entering the race until much later in the year than originally planned:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell POLITICO.

The delay from the original April target will give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”

Advisers said the biggest reason for the delay is simple: She feels no rush.

“She doesn’t want to feel pressured by the press to do something before she’s ready,” one adviser said. “She’s better off as a non-candidate. Why not wait?”

A huge advantage to waiting is that Clinton postpones the time when she goes before the public as a politician rather than as a former secretary of state. Polling by both Democrats and Republicans shows that one of her biggest vulnerabilities is looking political.

So the Clinton camp has enjoyed watching her recede from the headlines in recent weeks as Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have amped up their potential candidacies.

One option being considered would be to announce an exploratory committee earlier – perhaps in April, at the beginning of a new fundraising quarter, in the timeframe when insiders originally expected her to launch her campaign.

Then the actual kickoff would be in July, near the start of the next quarter. By launching at the beginning of a quarter, supporters have the maximum amount of time to generate a blockbuster total for their first report.

The fact that Clinton hasn’t announced anything yet is, of course, a sign of just how strong her campaign for the nomination is at this point. While many will point to the 2008 election in support of the idea that Clinton’s inevitability isn’t as assured as the pundits are making it out to be, it’s quite apparent that there simply isn’t any comparison between the 2008 and 2016 races and the idea that it’s likely that Clinton could be undermined by an Obama-like candidate this time around is extremely unlikely. As I noted when this argument was last raised back in July, even in the early stages of the 2008 race then-Senator Obama was polling in a strong second place behind Clinton, and the talk of her “inevitability” was far less common than current conventional wisdom would have it. This time around, Clinton polls far ahead of any of her potential opponents for the Democratic nomination, and she continues to out-poll her potential Republican challengers, and there’s no real indication that any of them could come close to being an Obama-like candidate. Webb and Schweitzer, for example, would potentially be interesting candidates that would garner a lot of press attention, but neither one of them seems likely to have the kind of grassroots appeal that would be needed to overcome their current single-digit numbers in the polls. Martin O’Malley’s candidacy, to the extent it ever comes to be, will likely be hurt by the fact that he was unable to even ensure that his own lieutenant governor was elected to succeed him. At 73, nobody actually believes that Bernie Sanders is a serious candidate for office. Joe Biden seems unlikely to enter the race. And, finally, while Elizabeth Warren may have an eager fan base, she’s made it clear enough that she doesn’t intend to run, if Hillary Clinton runs for president, and that for her to change her mind on that point would seem to undermine her own credibility as a candidate. Democrats are reportedly eager to downplay the idea that the 2016 primary race will basically end up being a coronation for Hillary Clinton, but that’s exactly what it’s shaping up to be, and as long as that’s the case, there’s no reason for Clinton to enter the race any earlier than she needs to.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

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