In 2008, many of her fellow Democrats believed Hillary Clinton was the “inevitable” Democratic presidential nominee. But the hype around her fell flat.
Looking forward to the 2016 presidential race, many still believe that Clinton — should she choose to run — is again the inevitable nominee.
A handful of other Democrats testing the waters of 2016 are for now pursuing their ambitions quietly. They are privately curating networks of politicians, operatives and donors in early-primary states like Iowa, but they are doing so with plans to launch serious campaigns only if Clinton doesn’t join the race.
“There is no field in Iowa on the Democratic side, and that’s because of Hillary,” said Jerry Crawford, a veteran Iowa Democratic operative who worked as a mid-west chair for Clinton during her last campaign. “And I don’t think there will be a Democratic field unless she does not run.”
Potential Republican presidential candidates have so far been actively raising their profiles and publicly sparring with each other as they prepare for their own primary runs. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have all made multiple appearances in early-primary states, including Iowa, over the past year.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, by contrast, have been speaking tacitly and strategically at select events, wary of appearing to challenge Clinton.
In a well-received speech to the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding fundraiser, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar touted her biography, but showed due deference by praising Clinton for “the incredible work that [she] has done promoting economic opportunity for all, making the country a safer place, and the incredible work she has done for women, in the Senate, in the country, and all over the world.”
Other Democrats making the rounds include Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who spoke last year to Iowa delegates attending the Democratic National Convention; Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who addressed South Carolina Democrats earlier this year; and Vice President Joe Biden, who will headline Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry next month in Iowa.
Democrats who aren’t Clinton are running less for second place than as a plan B. Democrats understand that they face a “disaster,” as one national Democratic adviser put it, if the party is unprepared for the possibility that Clinton won’t run.
“The entire Democratic Party can’t wait on Hillary to make a decision,” the adviser said. But “there isn’t anyone out there right now that seems to be running to challenge her.”
One factor driving Clinton’s popularity is the feeling among Democrats that she has earned a shot at the White House after being blindsided in the 2008 primary by Barack Obama.
And with her standing already strong among Democrats in Iowa and other early-primary states, Clinton has scant incentive to rush into the fray — which means the awkward plan B campaigns will continue.
“Secretary Clinton has a lot of people here who never stopped liking her,” said Pete D’Alesandro, an Iowa political consultant. “She starts with an institutional group of folks who are for her.”