Hillary Clinton's point of no return

Story highlights

  • Democrats have pointed to early January as a symbolic date for Clinton's presidential aspirations
  • If Clinton doesn't say 'no' by early January 2015, people close to Clinton say, it will be a sign she is running
  • Clinton said in September, that she will 'be making a decision around - probably after - the first of the year'

Washington (CNN)As Democrats close to Hillary Clinton recover from their New Year's Eve celebrations and flip their calendar to 2015, many will notice a seemingly unimportant date is fast approaching.

For months, pro-Clinton Democrats have pointed to early January -- particularly Jan. 15 -- as a symbolic date for Clinton's presidential aspirations. In conversations with one another and at strategy sessions about a possible 2016 run, former aides and confidants have quietly said that if Clinton doesn't say "no" to running by the start of 2015, she is a go for 2016.
"If she hasn't said 'no' by January, it will be a sign she is running," said one longtime Clinton friend at last month's Ready for Hillary strategy session in New York.
    The early January time frame is regularly used by Clinton supporters as a way to put off directly answering the will she/won't she questions posed by reporters. While the date itself is not totally significant, it has become a shorthand for early January. With that time frame now approaching, some in Clinton's orbit are admitting that time is running out for Clinton to say "no."
    "If she is not going to do it, she can't let it drag on after January 15," said a Democratic strategist close to Clinton. "If she hasn't said something after that date, people should assume she is running."
    The strategist, who said this was the general sense among people close to Clinton, added, "She has two weeks to say she isn't running."
    The reason is simple: Clinton has, so far, sucked up all the oxygen in the Democrats' 2016 conversation. If she lets that continue well into 2015 and then decides to back out, she puts her party -- which already has a thin bench of second tier candidates -- in a tough position.
    While chatter about former Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden have bubbled up throughout late 2014, neither have caught fire in the polls. The latest CNN/ORC poll finds Webb at a paltry 1%, Warren in second place with 9% support and Biden in third at 8%. Hillary Clinton, by comparison, is at 66% support.
    Because of the uncertainty around her announcement date, groups urging Clinton to run intend to continue their work well into 2015. Ready for Hillary, the grassroots super PAC organizing on Clinton's behalf, has events planned well into March but plans to close shop once Clinton announces. Groups like Correct the Record, a communications and research shop, and Priorities USA, a fundraising and ad buying outfit, have both pledged to ramp up in early 2015.
    Although Clinton's candidacy has long been a forgone conclusion to many of her close confidants, there are still some who hold out that she might decide not to run and has yet to make up her mind.
    Clinton has tried to play coy with her presidential ambitions, but began to more forcefully acknowledge her thoughts near the end of 2014. She has met with potential campaign staffers, according to her spokesman, and people close to her have begun to carefully line up a potential political operation.
    Clinton herself even used January 1, 2015 as a time frame for her decision.
    "I am going to be making a decision around -- probably after -- the first of the year," Clinton said during a September appearance in Mexico City.