WASHINGTON – Two days after the 2006 midterms -- what would have been yesterday, in other words -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack officially announced his run for the 2008 presidential election. He filed the necessary documents with the Federal Election Commission, opened an office and got up a website.
The 2016 candidates are already behind schedule.
With the 2014 midterms done, the political world is prepping for the next presidential campaign. There are likely to be some surprise candidates, some Vilsacks hoping the odds will somehow break in their favor. But there are already heavy-betting favorites, of which the heaviest is Hillary Clinton.
It's virtually certain that Clinton will run, and the Democrats' shellacking in the midterms only makes her more attractive to a demoralized party looking to unite around a star. "America needs Hillary's leadership," said an email sent Wednesday by the Ready for Hillary superPAC. She has said she will wait until the end of the year before announcing. But supporters argue that she might as well jump in, since she's already under a media microscope. With a campaign structure and staff in place, she might be better equipped to respond to attacks. And why keep playing coy?
Deciding when to announce is a complicated calculation for any candidate. Clinton doesn't need to start early to be able to raise big bucks. Fundraising should come easy to her. She is already well-known in early contest states like Iowa and New Hampshire. As the front-runner from the start, she will be able to lock up experienced staff; some of Obama's team have already agreed to work for her. Her aides are reportedly considering headquartering her campaign in White Plains, N.Y.
"Those who are urging her to start running now are those who think she has to respond to every attack or allegation or question from a reporter," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile told CNN. "She does not. She has the luxury of time. She can focus on what kind of candidate she wants to be."
To develop a focus for her campaign theme, Clinton might do the kind of "listening tour" she used to kick off her Senate campaign.
Most politicians start with exploratory committees before becoming full-fledged candidates. This allows them to raise money and conduct polls without having to file disclosures or deal with the attention of launching a full campaign. But for someone like Clinton, being all-in can offer benefits like more room on spending.
At this point, Clinton has little real competition, although she isn't likely to repeat the mistakes of 2008 when she ran as "inevitable" -- until a little-known Illinois senator defeated her in Iowa. That defeat may push her to declare sooner rather than later: It would be damaging to lose Iowa yet again, and the state's caucus-goers are famous for expecting to meet all the candidates in person -- more than once -- in their living rooms and community events. She'll need to spend plenty of time there. And once candidates announce, they can begin to recruit regional captains and attend more events.
The Republicans are likely to have a much larger field.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he won’t decide until next year. His outsized fundraising ability (and all the favors he can call in as head of the Republican Governors Association) enable him to hold off making it official. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has hinted that he'll decide by the end of the year. Sen. Rand Paul has been stoking speculation with his public statements and social media posts jabbing at Clinton.
There could also be some repeat candidates who, like Clinton, have high name recognition, established staffs and the ability to quickly activate fundraising networks. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, beloved by tea partiers, could make another try. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is thought to be considering a second run (if he can beat the abuse-of-power charges against him) and so could former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Governors have tended to be more successful than senators as presidential candidates -- as Gov. Christie likes to point out -- and with so many Republican governors, the party could offer a strong field.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are considering bids. Unlike Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who could also make a run for the White House, Kasich hasn't received much national press while in office. And Jindal is mostly known for the State of the Union response in 2009 that was panned as awkward and painful to watch.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, has been in office only two years (like Obama). Starting early could allow him to build up a national infrastructure. His allies are reportedly checking out office space in Houston. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might want an exploratory committee to fund research and polling in order to test his viability.
Getting in early can mean getting burned. When there are fewer candidates in the race, the scrutiny can be unrelenting -- at a point when low-profile candidates don't have much experience with the national media. Herman Cain ran in 2012 on his experience in business. He hadn't been closely covered before, and reporters discovered he had been accused twice of sexual harassment.
For early starters, there's also the chance that your stock may rise very quickly, only to fall. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty got attention when he announced for 2012, but the media shifted to other candidates and he found it difficult to raise money. If he had stayed in the race, might he have bested Mitt Romney for the nomination? It's possible: GOP primary voters cycled through several favorites, from Santorum to Perry to Newt Gingrich, before settling, not very enthusiastically, on Romney. But it's hard to keep the money coming in if you don't win some early contests or lead in any polls.
That's pretty much what happened to Tom Vilsack eight years ago. He never climbed above 1 percent support and ended his campaign in February.
But Clinton is playing a different game. If she starts this campaign exactly eight years after the first, the world only has to wait until Jan. 20 -- only 74 days away.