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“I’m in.”

That’s the phrase the political world is waiting to hear from the dozens of Republicans and some Democrats who are considering a run for the White House in 2016.

The starting gun for what could be the most competitive presidential primary in recent memory will be fired once a big-name candidate announces, and political insiders are placing their bets on who will be first out of the gate.

On the Republican side, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulSenate gears up for fight on Trump's 0B Saudi Arabia arms sale Paul: 0B Saudi arms deal ‘a travesty’ Senate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote MORE and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are said to be looking at the calendar — and over their shoulders — in preparation for announcements this spring.

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Other GOP contenders, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer McConnell on Trump: 'We could do with a little less drama' Taking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it MORE, are circling the wagons. And a decision is expected soon from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, which would ripple across the Republican field whether he gets in or stays out of the race.

For Democrats, the spotlight is fixed squarely on former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton: ‘I don’t die’ despite the right’s ‘best efforts’ Clinton: Comey firing is ‘an effort to derail and bury’ Russia probe RNC slams Clinton speech as example of 'why she lost' MORE.

Few expect her to enter the race in early January, as she did at the equivalent point eight years ago. Clinton announced her candidacy almost one year before the 2008 Iowa caucuses and two years to the day before the inauguration of the 44th president.

But groups on the left are increasingly vocal about their desire for a challenger to a front-runner whom they see as too centrist and Wall Street-friendly.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate panel approves Scott Brown as NZ ambassador Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) is clearly at the top of the left’s wish list. Clinton might want to declare fairly soon in the hope of choking off the chances of Warren or any other progressive rival.

In the meantime, Vice President Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are waiting in the wings, ready to pounce should Clinton make the surprise decision to stay out.

On the right, the packed stable of GOP hopefuls is creating a nightmare for strategists tasked with positioning their candidates to the best advantage.

“I have been doing this for 50 years and this is the first time I haven’t got a clue what will happen,” said veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who added that he is staying out of the 2016 fray.

“There are 20 people sitting in their offices around the country today thinking of running for president, and everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

The clock is already ticking.

The Iowa caucuses are a little more than a year away, and it’s only nine months until the first GOP primary debate, at the Reagan Library in California. Strategists expect the candidates to engage in an arms race for donors, staff and media attention, and are mindful of the deadlines for reporting campaign cash.

Within both parties, early signs of fundraising prowess can help candidates build credibility, as was the case when then-Illinois Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaWhite House to share info on ethics waivers White House considering vetting Trump’s tweets: report Clinton knocks Trump inauguration crowd size claims MORE ran neck-and-neck — and dollar-for-dollar — with Clinton from the start of their epic battle. Obama’s success in the “money primary” throughout 2007 was the first concrete evidence of how serious a threat he posed to the early favorite.

Procrastination can be fatal. An announcement from one candidate could have the effect of pulling others into the race or knocking them out, depending on their niche within their respective parties.

If, for instance, Warren were to enter the race, she would instantly undermine the rationale for a campaign by left-wing firebrand Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election Hillary Clinton targets troubled Trump, divided GOP with new PAC MORE (I-Vt.).

On the Republican side, a potential Bush candidacy looms large.

Both Christie and Rubio have much at stake in the former governor’s decision.

While Rubio has said that his former mentor’s decision won’t affect his own, strategists believe the Florida senator might sit out 2016 if Bush decides to run. Christie, meanwhile, would want to jump in immediately after Bush, for fear of seeing the establishment mantle seized by someone else.

With no single Republican candidate looming over the race, a sense of watchfulness pervades the GOP field.

“Rand and [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz are sort of shadow-boxing,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist from the Lone Star State. “Walker, [Indiana Gov.] Mike Pence, and [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich are watching each other. No one is making timeline decisions on their own.”

Some candidates are weighing a detour from politics. Perry, for one, is said to be considering a quick trip into the private sector after he leaves the Texas governor’s office in 2015, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is expected to hold on to his talk show at Fox News for as long as possible.

“We’ll have candidates starting later this cycle than what people may have thought,” said John Weaver, a senior adviser to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainArmed Services chairman unveils .1B Asia-Pacific security bill Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers MORE (R-Ariz.) during his presidential bids. “It’s going to be late winter to early spring announcements, as opposed to late December through February.”

Weaver, who served as chief strategist for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s 2012 campaign, said it would be a free-for-all once candidates begin declaring.

“It’s like dominos,” he said. “The first semi-serious domino that falls, [then] you’ll see others start falling. The discipline just goes out the window.”

Campaigns-in-waiting will spend the holiday season feeling out donors, planning strategy for the early primary states and tallying up favors.

Democrats will also be seeking as clear an answer as they can get to two key questions: Is Clinton definitely running and, if so, who can mount the most serious challenge to her?

Among Republicans, less work is to be done for candidates like Paul and Bush, who would benefit from their families’ wide bases of support, and Christie, who built up goodwill and allies as head of the Republican Governors Association.

Ford O’Connell, an alumnus of McCain’s 2008 campaign, predicted the announcements might not start to come until the spring, after the April 15 quarterly filing deadline for fundraising.

That would be a major change from 2008, when the stampede of candidates began right after Christmas.

“It’s chaotic right now because these calculations are so complex, and there is no front-runner for the first time in 50 years,” O’Connell said. “Last time, everyone knew their target was Mitt Romney. It was Mitt Romney-or-blank. Now, it could be anyone.”