By Amie Parnes - 06/29/14 06:00 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton’s road to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 is wide open, with few challengers looking capable of erecting big barriers in her way.
That’s welcome news to some in Hillaryland. But other allies worry that the perception of another inevitable candidacy might hurt her. Memories are still sharp of how clear a favorite she looked in 2008, before the man who is now president snatched it all away.
“She needs someone to challenge her,” said one Democratic strategist with close ties to the former Secretary of State’s inner circle. “You don't want any kind of perception that you are the inevitable candidate. And without that, it will bleed into the general [election] and that's just not helpful. It’s good for her to face some friendly fire.”
“Having an opponent or two in the primary doesn’t hurt her, it helps her,” added one former senior aide to Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “It reminds people that she’s going to have to work at this.
“She wears inevitability very badly,” the former aide continued.
While the names of some potential Democratic challengers have been floating around for months— Vice President Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and even Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren — they don't have the heft of support built around Clinton.
Even though she is months away from deciding if she will make another run at the White House, at least a dozen super-PACS are already preparing the ground for her.
While she is facing some turbulence at present, particularly with her recent comments on wealth, she is such a dominant figure within the party that there is no incentive for others to take her on.
Polls indicate that Clinton would trounce other Democrats, including Biden. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that offered Democratic voters a choice of almost every conceivable contender showed 66 percent of them would vote for Clinton.
Biden came in second place with 12 percent — 54 points behind. Warren, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were among those who did not break single digits.
“Even with her recent missteps, she still appears to most Democrats as an overwhelming force and the fundraising would be difficult for anyone who opposes her,” said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University.
“I think there’s also a sense that you don’t want to challenge the person who has the best chance to win.”
Tim Miller, a spokesman for the Republican super-PAC America Rising, said he understands why more Democrats have not jumped in.
“Given the Clintons’ penchant for punishing political foes even within their own party, I'd imagine any Democrats considering challenging her will hold their fire until they are certain to make the plunge,” Miller said.
But Miller added that Clinton “remains vulnerable in a Democratic primary — and there's a playbook for how to beat her — so I would be shocked if nobody tries to take her on.”
While she considers whether or not she will run for the White House, Clinton has said that her deliberations should not affect others' decisions to jump into the race.
“People can do whatever they choose to do on whatever timetable they decide,” Clinton told ABC’s Diane Sawyer earlier this month. “Whether they choose to seek the presidency or not is very personal for everybody.”
Still, Zelizer and other observers note that the atmosphere in 2016 could look far different from the bruising 2008 primary battle.
For one thing, as Zelizer pointed out, “There’s no one like Obama at this point.”
And Democrats also believe the dynamics within the party have shifted since that last, epic primary.
"There's a big difference between this time and last time," said one high-ranking Democratic official. "Last time the political environment was different. We were in the middle of a war, the party was trying to figure itself out after years in the wilderness. And we had two different people represent two visions of what the party should be.
"We know who we are now," the official added. "We are a very populist party. Ideologically we are very much in sync. It's hard for somebody to make the case that they are a better alternative. 15,000 people aren’t going to show up to a Martin O’Malley event because they want someone different.”