(CBS NEWS) -- In the months since her departure from the Obama administration,
Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator, and first lady,
has kept a remarkably low profile: She saw a play. She decided to write a memoir. She announced
her support for same-sex marriage.
And Tuesday night, she'll deliver
remarks at the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in Washington.
But it's what she hasn't done that continues to keep political
spectators waiting with baited breath: Every day that Clinton declines
to announce her political intentions -- or lack thereof -- is another
day Democrats far and wide remain frozen in anticipation about the
party's prospects for 2016.
"We're in a little bit of a state of suspended animation, I
think, because of her looming presence," said Democratic strategist and
two-time Joe Biden campaign adviser Larry Rasky. "People may have to
wait for the dust to settle."
Setting the pace
Given that the next presidential is a nearly four years away, no
person, Democrat or Republican, has actually announced a presidential
bid so far. But that doesn't mean talks aren't taking place behind the
scenes. As CBS News reported last month, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has
already had a couple of meetings on the subject; and it's not uncommon
to expect future presidential hopefuls -- particularly the
up-and-comers, who have a longer ladder to climb than some of their more
seasoned peers -- might be making early moves to gin up support.
"If you're a challenger like [Maryland Gov. Martin] O'Malley or [New
York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, you really need to be active now," said veteran
Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who advised Al Gore and John Kerry in
their presidential bids. "You need to be lining up fundraising support,
most importantly, but you also have to be figuring out a strategy, a
message, and figuring out how you're going to be navigating the early
states like Iowa and New Hampshire. If you're not doing that yet, you're
behind the curve."
For many potential challengers --
for example, a locally popular but relatively obscure governor -- it
would be task enough to face Vice President Joe Biden in an open
challenge for the 2016 presidential nomination: Like many VPs before
him, Biden is popular, politically well-connected, experienced, and
bears the gravitas often bestowed to those who spend eight years being
the president's number two. If Clinton gets in, the challenges will
multiply: In addition to her sky-high ratings as secretary of state, she
has a rich and loyal network of donors; she's proven her salt as a
presidential candidate, and she'd be running to be the first woman
presidential nominee in a party dominated by women.
things tend to tier. There's the top tier and then there's the middle
and sometimes the bottom," said Devine. "I think clearly Hillary is the
leading candidate, and the only one who can approach her and potentially
make it into the top tier would be the vice president. I think the
others either are going to be second- or third-tier depending on how
much support they have, or how much money they can raise, or things of
that nature. So that's kind of where it begins."
problem with being a "second- or third-tier" candidate is that lining
up concrete support can be easier said than done -- particularly when
his or her party's major donors and political operatives are holding
their breaths waiting for someone who may or may not jump in.
you're trying to put together a presidential campaign on the basis of
support -- both political support and fundraising support -- now, at a
pretty early juncture, you need people who are committed to you," said
Devine. "You need people who will go out and raise money for you from
their own networks. And to have someone like Hillary looming out there,
stops the movement of people - both fundraising people and political
people - towards potential challengers."
establishment figures, he says, have little incentive to get in early
for a long-shot candidate when there's a chance someone else -- someone
who has proven, actually, to have a pretty good shot, could enter at any
moment - thus making their support all but irrelevant.
Hillary there the incentive to move to another candidate is very low,
because the likelihood of her winning is very high. And these political
people, who make those judgments, the fundraising people, the elected
officials, the activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, they don't want to
bet on the wrong candidate," Devine he said.
ignore the fact that if you're either the Democratic donor or a state
rep. in Iowa, you're going to sort of scratch your head if anybody else
comes calling," added Rasky.
In the words of former
South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges, a veteran politico who helps connect
prospective Democratic candidates with the early presidential primary
state's top donors and political actors, the pool of support from which
to tap right now isn't just shallow: "It's frozen," he says. "In a lot
of ways it feels the field, particularly those candidates who are better
known, are hesitant to taking action while she's making her mind up."
one seems to know exactly the sort of timetable under which Clinton is
operating, other than to say it's a pretty generous one.
probably has a very long time to decide whether or not she's going to
run," said Mike Stratton, a Democratic political consultant, who is also
a friend and supporter of O'Malley's. "She uniquely has the ability to
get tanned, rested and ready."
Vying for second - or third - place
may be a likely -- and potentially formidable -- candidate for 2016, but
that doesn't mean her less prospective prominent rivals should just sit
around twiddling their thumbs until she announces her choice, says
Hodges. Sure, they may not be able to line up the kind of money one
would need to launch a serious presidential bid, but they can probably
rustle together enough cash to beef up their credentials and boost their
"There are a lot of things that can happen between now and
filing day that could cause Hillary Clinton to decide not to run," he
said. "All of these would-be candidates have to operate under the theory
that she's not going to run as of now."
For the moment,
he says, that means forming relationships with fundraising networks and
the major players in early primary states - even if they can't "tap
into" that network until down the line.
"There are lots
of things you can do," said Devine. "You may not convert somebody in
Iowa and New Hampshire but you can meet them. You can impress them, you
can line them up and get them ready, and you can do the same with
fundraising people: Warm them up, get them on your side, build
relationships with them, and if the opening comes -- either because she
doesn't run or because she stumbles -- then that investment will have
Too soon to say?
of when Clinton makes her decision, representatives for other possible
Democratic contenders suggest it's way too early for them to be
concerned about any of the potential consequences of a delay.
O'Malley's focus is on getting results for the people of Maryland, not
on fundraising," said Lis Smith, an adviser for the Maryland governor,
in an email. "That's evident with the productive legislative session
that he's having."
Laura Dhooge, political
director of Deval Patrick's TogetherPAC, echoed that sentiment in a
statement to CBS: "Governor Patrick is entirely focused on an ambitious
growth agenda here in Massachusetts focused on education and
transportation to ensure that the Commonwealth is fulfilling its
generational responsibility to invest in our future," she said.
said TogetherPAC "continues to raise some funds to accommodate
political needs as they arise," but that doesn't appear to be a major
focus at the moment: As of the end of 2012, his PAC had $512,303 cash on
hand, according to FEC filings. O'Malley's PAC had $28,550 on hand at the end of 2012, according to FEC filings, and Smith said he hasn't been fundraising during session.
Buckley, the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, agrees that
it's premature to assume that any other candidates would now be pounding
the pavement up in New Hampshire were only Clinton officially out of
"I think many folks have created a mental
first, second, third, fourth choice list -- even those who are fervent
Hillary supporters who would rather see her president than probably take
another breath," he said.
But it's not like everyone's dying to lock down a candidate tomorrow.
"In 2005, the only person who was even mildly engaging folks in New
Hampshire was John Edwards," he said. Clinton didn't show up there until
March of 2007 -- the first time she'd visited the state since 1995, he
says -- and she still managed a win. "There's not an expectation, I
don't think, from New Hampshire or Iowa or South Carolina, that people
are full-blown running right now."
Biden's not likely hanging out by the phone for Clinton's decision, either, according to Rasky.
"I don't think he's sitting around waiting for her to decide," he said.
"I don't think he thinks he needs permission from anybody."
who was communications director for Biden in his 2008 presidential bid
and also worked on his bid in 1988, says he hasn't been involved in any
formal campaign meetings with the VP, and that he "would doubt" any have
"I think he's going to do what he would be
normally be doing as vice presidential incumbent, which is helping
candidates in 2014, and really doing his job as vice president," he
said. "Those are the logical things for him to be doing under any
circumstances right now."