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Potential Hillary Clinton challengers gear up for fight

Democrats not named Clinton who might run for president are hiring key staff and laying plans to run for the Democratic nomination.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to a rally of supporters of Kentucky senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 28, 2014. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to a rally of supporters of Kentucky senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 28, 2014.

Hillary Clinton's allies may think the likely presidential candidate is stronger now than she was before last week's midterm elections, but that hasn’t stopped her potential challengers from moving ahead with their own plans.

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who says he is seriously considering a presidential run as a Democrat, has hired veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine, while the group trying to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren is also staffing up.

Related: GOP launches age-old attack on Hillary Clinton

With a career in presidential politics stretching more than three decades, Devine is highly respected in Democratic political circles. His involvement with Sanders will instantly lend credibility to the progressive senator, who has sometimes struggled to be taken seriously as a viable national candidate.

“I believe he could deliver an enormously powerful message that the country is waiting to hear right now and do it in a way that succeeds,” Devine told The Washington Post. Devine played senior roles in Al Gore and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, as well as those of 17 winning Senate races.

Sanders and his message of “political revolution” have been well received on recent trips to New Hampshire and Iowa, both key early presidential states. And some Clinton allies fear he could find a following on the left.

“In terms of fundraising, there would be real interest in him at the grassroots level,” Devine told the Post. “He knows how to do the organizing that’s required. As a mass media person, I also think he would be a great television candidate. He can connect on that level.”

Meanwhile, Ready for Warren announced Monday that it had hired a deputy campaign manager to help run its day-to-day operations. Kate Albright-Hanna, who is also an Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker, worked with Ready for Warren founder Erica Sagrans on Obama’s 2008 campaign. This year, she served as communications director for Zephyr Teachout, who mounted a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary campaign against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The group is also in the process of hiring several field directors in key states. Warren has repeatedly said she is not running. 

Related: Bernie Sanders giving pro-Clinton Democrat ‘nightmares’

At the same time, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, an anti-war moderate, is more seriously considering a run that previously disclosed. “I do believe that I have the leadership and the experience and the sense of history and the kinds of ideas where I could lead this country,” he told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza for a profile of the Democratic field published Monday. “We’re just going to go out and put things on the table in the next four or five months and see if people support us. And if it looks viable, then we’ll do it.” 

And then there's Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has the most complete infrastructure in place of anyone not named Clinton, but now to has figure out whether or not to dismantle it after the election. His political action committee dispatched 32 staffers to help Democrats in key states, and now has to decide how many to keep. Many of the staffers were fairly junior, but earned positive reviews from Iowa Democrats. O’Malley was seen as damaged by the loss of lieutenant governor Anthony Brown in last week's race to replace him in the Maryland statehouse.

Clinton still has an enormous lead in early public opinion surveys, and allies think her party's drubbing last week will encourage Democrats to rally around Clinton and help clarify her message against a Republican Congress. At the same time, many Democrats, especially in early states, say they want to see a vigorous primary campaign.