By Bernie Becker - 09/02/12 10:00 PM EDT
Winning reelection for President Obama is the focus for Democrats in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean convention-goers won’t be taking a peek at their potential 2016 standard-bearers.
Vice President Biden — who has declined to shut the door on a possible third bid for the White House — and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cast the largest shadows over the next race for the Democratic nomination.
Earlier this year, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, also floated Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana and even Elizabeth Warren, the liberal favorite currently locked in a tight race with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), as potential 2016 candidates.
Democratic veterans say that, while conventions are a way to celebrate a party’s past and drum up support in the present, officials will have ways in Charlotte to put themselves on the map for the future.
“Giving a speech that people remember — that’s probably the best way to leave a mark,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“But there’s also tons of meetings and events that can allow potential candidates to make that personal connection with delegates. Not as many people see those interactions, but they can be just as important.”
At the same time, the party faithful in Charlotte will only get to size up a few possible candidates for the White House.
As it stands, only Warren, O’Malley and Biden — who would be 74 by the time he took the reins in 2017 — are scheduled to have speaking roles in Charlotte.
Like her predecessors as the country’s top diplomat, Clinton is skipping the convention because it is a partisan event — though her husband, former President Clinton, is slated for a prominent role. Hillary, 64, also has tried to tamp down speculation that she would be interested in a 2016 comeback.
For his part, Cuomo is currently scheduled for little more than a Charlotte cameo, saying his day job will keep him in New York.
And all that’s just as well for some Democratic leaders, who say nothing will distract from the mission at hand.
Don Fowler, a chairman of the Democratic National Committee under President Clinton, told The Hill that those looking for 2016 insight in Charlotte “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
“The Democratic convention is about the 2012 election and getting Obama reelected,” Fowler said. “If anybody’s looking for someone for 2016, they’re looking for a ghost.”
Biden, not surprisingly, has enthusiastically hit the stump for a second term in the No. 2 slot, though comments like his remark that the GOP ticket wanted to keep people “in chains” have at times kept his campaign off balance.
Meanwhile, O’Malley, 49, has also been an enthusiastic surrogate for Obama on Sunday shows and in other venues. In addition to his speech, O’Malley is reportedly expected to appear with his Celtic-rock band in Charlotte.
But in keeping with his convention plans, Cuomo, 54, has kept more of a low profile, which has merely fed speculation that he has his eyes on 2016.
Still, no matter the approach, Democrats caution that a successful convention appearance doesn’t necessarily set you on a path toward the White House.
Obama, attacking pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states,” entered the spotlight with his 2004 speech in Boston.
But Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father and himself a New York governor, got rave reviews for his 1984 speech, then decided against throwing his hat in the ring for both 1988 and 1992.
And Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination in 1992 four years after giving a lengthy convention address that he called a “bust” and The New York Times editorial page dubbed a “19-page speech to a hall that had barely five pages of patience.”
With all that in mind, some of the younger names on the 2016 list might be playing more of a long game as well. (Biden, for instance, announced his first White House bid a quarter-century ago.)
“I think you will hear most people not wanting to speculate about 2016 and instead focus on 2012,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and columnist for The Hill. “But remember: For Gov. O’Malley and Gov. Cuomo, it’s not just about 2016. They’re both young enough to run in the future, beyond 2016.”