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Dems are marking their turf in preparation for primary battle

When Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE sent a note to supporters this week telling them he was “considering running for president,” he was laying down a marker for the 2020 presidential race. 

It was also a message to the dozens of other candidates mulling whether to enter what is likely to be one of the most crowded Democratic presidential primaries in history.

“It’s essentially him marking his turf while he tests the waters,” said one political strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns. “Make no mistake about it, it’s as much for his rivals as it is for his supporters.” 

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Timing is everything when it comes to a presidential election launch.

Candidates don’t want to announce too soon and they certainly don't want to be the last one to declare — particularly in a field that is expected to near 30 candidates. 

During the last presidential cycle, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE waited until April of 2015 to announce her candidacy, even as some advisors sought to convince her to announce sooner.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE, (I-Vt.) announced several weeks later.

On the Republican side, candidates like Jeb Bush announced exploratory runs as early as December in 2014. Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE famously announced his bid at Trump Tower in June of 2015. He was one of the final big candidates to enter the race, and few at the time saw the freight train he would become.

This cycle, only one candidate, Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight MORE (Md.) has officially declared his candidacy. He’s already spending much of his time in Iowa.

Other potential candidates including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory BookerObama says reparations 'justified' Congressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (N.J.) have played coy while former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE has said that he will decide whether to run by the end of the year.

Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Wesley Clark and John Edwards, cautioned candidates on declaring too early. 

“Avoid before new year, as that is a dead time and you can never redo your launch,” Kofinis said. 

He predicted that given the size of the field, voters will see a string of exploratory announcements and formal announcements between the new year and April. 

But Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the front-loaded nature of the 2020 primaries means it’s “the earlier the better.”

“There are dozens of potential candidates and the size of the field dictates the calendar,” Bannon said. “Candidates could get lost in the shuffle if they don’t stake their claims early.

“The candidates are like the Sooners. Thousands of them lined up on the Texas border on the day the Oklahoma territory was opened to settlement. Their motto was the sooner you get there, the more fertile farmland you get,” Bannon said. “So the sooner you start, the better off the candidates will be . . . The latecomers eat dirt.”

Democratic strategist David Wade, who served as a senior aide to 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John KerryJohn KerryUN: Emission reduction plans 'fall far short' Climate change rears its ugly head, but Biden steps up to fight it Recapturing the spirit of Bretton Woods MORE, also expects to see candidates begin to announce in the coming weeks. 

“There’s a window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s which will define much of the field,” Wade said. “You want to get out front, line up commitments from donors, and lock down staff and activists ahead of the competition, period.

“Unromantic as it is, it isn’t a decision to overthink or overproduce, it’s a decision about ruthless efficiency,” he said.

The only would-be candidates who have the luxury of waiting are the better-known candidates like Biden and Michael Bloomberg. For everyone else, Wade added, “it’s a rush to get out there.” 

In his letter to supporters on Tuesday evening, Brown said he was reading comments from supporters on Facebook and Twitter and in private messages. “What an honor to be part of that conversation,” he said. “When people like you stand together and fight for our friends, family, neighbors and communities, we make change a reality. That’s why it’s so important that I hear your opinion about 2020. If you can, let us know your thoughts now.” 

Kofinis said that if Biden does announce early or another candidate suddenly catches fire, “then it may lead to a flood of announcements.”

He also said potential candidates will also plan to announce candidacies at the beginning of a quarter to maximize their fundraising. 

But as Democrats enter unchartered territory with a large field, Kofinis said that “the nature of this race will upend the rules because we have not had a race like this since the mid 1980s or 1992, where there were so many viable candidates and no overwhelming front runner.” 

“Expect the unexpected,” he said.