When people find out what I do for a living, the first question they inevitably ask is "Is Hillary running?" When I answer that I think she will, the follow up is almost always: "Will anyone run against her?" My answer is, of course. Why wouldn't they?
My view is not necessarily conventional wisdom in DC. Talk among the chattering class here is that she'll have a glide path to the nomination. It's hers for the taking. She'll have the money. She’ll have the political infrastructure. And, more important, she will have gobs of goodwill among a Democratic base eager to put the first woman in the White House.
All true. But, it was also true in 2008. More important, being a frontrunner - especially this far out from 2016 - is a very dangerous and precarious spot to be. Long before the first bumper stickers are printed or the first volunteers start their door-knocking, Hillary Clinton has already been dragged into a veritable A-B-C of controversies: Anthony Weiner, Benghazi, and the Clinton Foundation. News organizations have already designated "Hillary" beats for enterprising reporters to rack up scoops (and dig for scandal) for the next three years. GOP organizations from the RNC to the opposition research group American Rising have already been filling my inbox with negative and/or unflattering stories about the former Secretary of State.
This scrutiny was going to come no matter what - but it's just coming a lot earlier than expected. A stagnant second term for Obama plus Capitol Hill gridlock equals a bored and restless press corps. And everyone knows a bored press is a dangerous press. Moreover, these aggressive political reporters are under more pressure than ever to serve new and juicy political morsels to their anxious editors every day. Plus, as my friends at NBC’s First Read have pointed out, Hillary herself is just as responsible for the frenzied coverage. Her speech to the American Bar Association criticizing changes to the Voting Rights Act was an overtly political move. And, there will be more speeches like this in the near future.
This isn't to suggest that Hillary Clinton is going to be intimidated out of the race. However, it should serve as a reminder to any and all potential Democratic White House wannabes that there's no telling what will happen to a frontrunner over the course of three long years.
This is why there is no real downside for Vice President Joe Biden or Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to run in 2016, regardless of whether or not Hillary Clinton is in the race.
O'Malley has zero national name ID, but his track- record in Maryland - on issues ranging from gun control to gay marriage - will please the liberal base. Moreover, O'Malley is termed-out of office, leaving the 50-year old without any obvious political path after 2014. A decent run in 2016 could set him up well for the future. Say, a place on the 2016 ticket, or a seat at the table in a Democratic Administration. If he fails, well, he's always got his band.
Biden's got nothing to lose either. The young-turk of the 1988 campaign will be 74 years old in November of 2016. He is also the sitting Vice President of the United States. When was the last time a sitting Vice President was not considered a front-runner for the nomination? Dick Cheney doesn't count (he took himself out of the running in the very beginning).
While both he and Hillary Clinton have served at the pleasure of President Obama, Biden's carried the water on some of the issues most appealing to the Democratic base (like gun control). He's also been in direct contact with the Democratic grassroots for the last four years and has served as a tireless fundraiser for Democratic candidates.
Politics is all about timing, and 2016 is Hillary Clinton's time. But, she will also be the most highly scrutinized frontrunner in history. Her opponents, meanwhile, get to fly somewhat under the radar and away from the daily barrage of speculation, gossip and attack. There is no "perfect time" to run for president. You have to risk losing if you ever want a shot to win.