Democratic aspirants are taking a more leisurely approach to 2016, even as Republican presidential hopefuls are scrambling to lock down top political talent and raise campaign cash more quickly than their potential rivals.
Flashback to this point during the 2008 presidential cycle: Three major Democratic candidates — Tom Vilsack, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich — had already declared their candidacies, while announcements from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd were coming right around the corner in later January. As compared to 2008, the field this time around could be best described as quiet, with most cooling their heels until spring.
The only candidate officially looking at a run right now is former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who announced an exploratory committee in November. But he's since gone dark, and hasn’t made a public appearance since Dec. 3. And spokesperson said he will be out of commission for some time as he recuperates from knee surgery.
“Jim has just undergone a full knee replacement as a consequence of shrapnel wounds received from an enemy grenade,” spokesperson Craig Crawford said Friday. “He is out of the hospital and recovering quite well. The upside is he can catch up with the new season of ‘Downton Abbey.’”
Webb served in Vietnam and received shrapnel wounds while shielding a fellow Marine during a daring maneuver, for which he was later awarded the Navy Cross.
Earlier in the week, Crawford told msnbc that Webb is in “merely an exploratory phase.” “Right now there are no events on the schedule. That will come if Jim decides to run,” he said.
Thursday night during an appearance at the University of Chicago, former Gov. Martin O’Malley said he is “seriously considering” a run in 2016, but added that he’s going to take the next few months to resettle his family after he leaves the governor’s mansion in two weeks. He told the Associated Press afterwards that he’ll make a decision on whether to run by the spring.
Back in Washington, Sen. Bernie Sanders — who has also said he is seriously eyeing a run — is busy with a new job in the new Senate, and so far has no political events publicly scheduled this month, a spokesperson said, though that could change going forward. He is scheduled to headline a progressive summit in Pennsylvania in February. Sanders previously said he'll decide in March on a possible bid for president.
While the presumed front-runner on the Republican side, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, jump-started Republicans with an early declaration that he will explore entering the race, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton appears be aiming for a spring announcement date. “She’s the pacesetter in this thing,” veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who is advising Sanders, told msnbc.
Clinton has two speeches sponsored by a bank in Canada scheduled for later this month, and two more private appearances planned for February and March, but so far nothing else has been announced publicly. Her plans as of now also don't include public appearances in the key presidential race state of Iowa and New Hampshire anytime soon. “Things are pretty quiet in the near term,” said Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill.
Nonetheless, there is plenty happening beneath the surface as Clinton quietly assembles a prospective campaign team.
Shortening the primary campaign in an attempt to run out the clock while in a strong position is a classic move for front-runners. But with Clinton leaving the field open, some Democratic operatives are puzzled as to why her potential rivals don’t seem eager to take advantage of the vacuum.
“For any of the candidates, time is the most valuable resource that they've got,” said John Davis, an Iowa native and former Edwards aide who went on to serve as chief of staff to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley. “Activists and folks in Iowa are ready for candidates to get on the ground."
O’Malley, like Edwards, deployed staff and money to early presidential states to help Democratic candidates in the midterm elections before their prospective runs. But Edwards made a point of keeping his operation in the state up and running, transitioning it into a presidential run, instead of closing down shop after the midterms.
While Webb has health reasons for staying off the trail, O’Malley on Thursday alluded to personal reasons relating to his family.
A lack of finances could also be a hindrance for some potential candidates, since deploying a campaign requires major resource commitments. Eventually, though, candidates will make it to the field.
"You can't explore without leaving the house,” Davis said.