Given that her book tour looked more like a campaign roll-out, it's hard to believe that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run in 2016. However, those close to the former Secretary of State continue to insist that her entry into the presidential race is not a foregone conclusion. Those we've talked with in Hillary's orbit give it a 70-80 percent chance that she jumps in. That there is some hesitation is understandable. The woman has spent nearly 25 years in national politics and knows what she's in for: the grueling campaign trail, the loathsome media, the never-ending scrutiny. Plus, she'd be the standard bearer for a political party that (at least for now) failed to improve the economy.
Moreover, there are plenty of Democrats who are less-than-excited about the thought of a 69-year-old career pol as their nominee when many voters--and even many Democrats--want to see new blood and new leadership in DC.
So, what if she doesn't run? I posed this question in email form to a group of national Democratic political pros (pollsters, media consultants, strategists, thinkers), only one of whom thought that Hillary would not run. Here's what they predicted if the unpredicted did happen.
1) Biden starts as the frontrunner, but a very weak one: Even with Biden in the mix, most of the Democrats I spoke to said they saw a "free for all" and a nomination "up for grabs." The latest PPP poll (March 6-9, 2014), told a similar tale: In a Democratic primary without Hillary Clinton, Biden is in first place with an anemic 37 percent. Although he's far ahead of his closest (and less well-known) competitors--Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are only other Democrats to hit double digits, at 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively--this is a weak position for a sitting two-term Vice President to start.
2) There will be a woman: Of course there's Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ("most candidates don't write books unless they want to be in a national conversation"), but mentioned as often was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was also highlighted, though not nearly as often as the other two. My thoughts: Warren will excite the base - and can raise tons of money - but Republicans would love to run against a Massachusetts liberal in 2016 (we know how well that worked out in 1988 for Dems). Though she has a much lower profile than Warren, Gillibrand has a natural fundraising base in New York City and has been building out a national fundraising structure as well. She's carved out a profile as a defender of women's rights and safety (like sexual assault in the military), but she will have need to build up her record on a broader variety of economic and international issues. And, like Clinton, she has to find a way to effectively balance her relationships with Wall Street with the populist mood of the Democratic base.
3) There will be an African-American: As the party of the first African-American president, and one that counts on almost universal support from African-American voters, it's hard to imagine a Democratic field without an African-American candidate. Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was mentioned the most often, though freshman New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was also picked by many of the Democratic strategists. Overall, however, the bench of well-known African-American pols who could run a national campaign is pretty thin.
4) No Latino named: For all the talk about the GOP's troubles with Latino voters, they have a bounty of potential Hispanic candidates for 2016. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are outwardly positioning for a run, while two western governors, New Mexico's Susanna Martinez and Nevada's Brian Sandoval, will be in the mix. The same can't be said of Democrats. In fact, when you ask Democrats to name a serious Hispanic candidate for 2016 the only name that surfaces is former San Antonio Mayor and newly appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.
5) Martin O'Malley: The outgoing Maryland Governor is everywhere these days, making no secret of his interest in a 2016 bid (with or without Hillary in the race). Also getting a surprising number of mentions was Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. Warner's biggest liability is his association with the moderate/bi-partisan wing of the party. O'Malley has the more liberal record, but he would still struggle to get the attention or hold the appeal of a Warren, Cuomo, or Biden. Meanwhile, more than a couple Democrats insist that Cuomo, like his father, won't ultimately pull the trigger on a presidential run.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is also more than likely to evolve over these next many months. But, it does point to a serious "farm team" problem for the Democrats. As one Democratic strategist wrote, "not exactly 'Night of Thousand Stars' is it? Hillary masks a few problems in our party now, one of which is a lack of prime-time ready statewide electeds."