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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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police MORE and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are said to be looking at the calendar — and over their shoulders — in preparation for announcements this spring.


Other GOP contenders, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioIf we seek resilience, we need liberty, not nationalism GOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters 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 Diane Rodham ClintonMark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president Trump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Poll: Biden leads Trump, Cunningham neck and neck with Tillis in North Carolina 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 WarrenGeorge Floyd protests show corporations must support racial and economic equality It's time to shut down industrial animal farming The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen 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 Hussein ObamaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NYT publishes controversial Tom Cotton op-ed The millions of young people forgotten amid pandemic response Poll: Biden leads Trump, Cunningham neck and neck with Tillis in North Carolina 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 SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs order removing environmental reviews for major projects | New Trump air rule will limit future pollution regulations, critics say | DNC climate group calls for larger federal investment on climate than Biden plan Google: Chinese and Iranian hackers targeting Biden, Trump campaigns Sanders: Police departments that violate civil rights should lose federal funding 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 Sidney McCainKelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight How Obama just endorsed Trump 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.”