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How long can Hillary Clinton wait?

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 6:51 PM EDT, Mon September 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hillary Clinton tells an interviewer that she's wrestling with a 2016 decision
  • Analysts say that because of name recognition and stature, she should be in no hurry
  • Public opinion polls show Clinton as the overwhelming favorite among Democrats
  • Clinton herself says such speculation over 2016 isn't good for the country

Washington (CNN) -- When it comes to 2016, Hillary Clinton is in no rush to decide about another run for the White House.

This amid mounting speculation that Clinton will launch another bid, and with everything she says, and every move she makes, scrutinized for signals of where she stands when it comes to her political future.

"I'm not in any hurry. I think it's a serious decision, not to be made lightly, but it's also not one that has to be made soon," Clinton told New York Magazine in her first interview since retiring as secretary of state at the beginning of this year.

Far from her denials in interviews at the beginning of the year, when she told CNN that she had "absolutely no plans to run," Clinton now appears to be wrestling with a decision, saying in the New York Magazine interview that "I will just continue to weigh what the factors are that would influence me making a decision."

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Even as Clinton 2016 story count keeps rising many Democrats both inside and outside Clinton World agree that, because of who she is, she doesn't need to be the first one out of the gate to announce her 2016 intentions.

"There is definitely no rush for Hillary to decide about 2016," said Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala. "As someone who wants her to run, I still understand that she has lots of time. No one should try to rush Hillary on this. She has earned the right to advance her mission in the foundation. Hillary has earned the unique status she has today, and there is no need for her to be pressured into diving back into the political swamp."

Thanks to her name recognition, the former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state is the overwhelming frontrunner in early 2016 surveys. In the most recent survey, conducted earlier this month by CNN/ORC International, nearly two-thirds of Democrats and independents who lean toward that party said they were likely to back Clinton as their presidential nominee. Vice President Joe Biden came in a distant second, at 10%, with freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 7%, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 6%, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at 2%.

The CNN survey was in line with previous polls from other organizations conducted earlier this year that indicated Clinton was far ahead of all the other possible Democratic contenders.

Begala, who was a senior political adviser to President Bill Clinton, said Hillary Clinton's "time horizon and the whole rest of the party's time horizon are very, very different," adding that "anybody else has got to start to lay the groundwork" much earlier than Clinton."

"Hillary has more time than anyone else. And that's why her friends, and I'm one of them, are saying she can take her time. She doesn't need to build name identification. She doesn't even need to build a roster of donors."

Translation: Don't expect to see Clinton make a stop in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina anytime soon, as some of the other potential 2016ers, such as O'Malley and even Biden, have already made.

Clinton already has a superPAC named "Ready for Hillary" actively raising money in support of a possible 2016 bid. And the political action committee that Begala advises, "Priorities USA," which was formed in 2011 to back President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and spent millions on TV ads critical of Mitt Romney, could play a similar role for Clinton should she run again.

Asked if there is a concern that if Clinton waits too long, some big name donors and influential Democratic politicians could stray to other 2016 candidates, Begala said such a scenario is "not a concern at all."

Not all Democrats agree.

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"She is the prohibitive favorite, but the dynamics of the race change the longer someone waits. So the question is how long can she wait," said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist and a veteran of the Wesley Clark 2004 and John Edwards 2008 presidential campaigns.

"If she gets in early, she sucks up the oxygen, the money, and the grassroots. She could basically kill the field."

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When it comes to polling, Clinton's standing now compares to her situation the first time she ran for president, when she was the Democratic favorite in the early years of the 2008 presidential cycle. She was the front-runner in CNN polling from mid-2005 through 2006, prior to her January 2007 announcement that she was forming an exploratory committee, which formally kicked off her presidential fundraising and campaigning.

By then, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Biden, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico had all jumped in.

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Clinton and Obama eventually went on to battle each other in a historic primary season, which ended with Clinton ending her bid for the nomination in June 2008, at the conclusion of the primary calendar.

Ben LaBolt, a veteran of three presidential campaigns, suggests there may be a middle ground for Clinton.

"Secretary Clinton faces a paradoxical choice: If she announces that she's re-entering the political fray, scrutiny on her would be heightened exponentially. Yet even without an announcement, the press and her potential opponents are already treating her like she is running," said LaBolt, who served as a deputy press secretary for Obama's 2008 campaign and national press secretary for the 2012 re-election campaign.

"The solution might be to ensure trusted advisers are working from the outside to manage rapid response, cultivate donors and study her prospective competitors' records to lay the groundwork for a run for as long as possible without jumping two feet in."

Clinton herself downplays any imminent announcement, saying such speculation isn't good for the country.

"It's like when you meet somebody at a party and they look over your shoulder to see who else is there," Clinton said. "And you want to talk to them about something that's really important; in fact, maybe you came to the party to talk to that particular person, and they just want to know what's next. I feel like that's our political process right now. I just don't think it is good."

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