Dems are marking their turf in preparation for primary battle

When Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell 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 ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award MORE waited until April of 2015 to announce her candidacy, even as some advisors sought to convince her to announce sooner.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' 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 John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed 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 Kevin DelaneyPoll: Biden holds 20-point lead in South Carolina Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Delaney to take message to Iowa voters on Sunday with infomercial MORE (Md.) has officially declared his candidacy. He’s already spending much of his time in Iowa.

Other potential candidates including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' Poll: Biden holds 20-point lead in South Carolina Fox News anchor apologizes for saying Booker dropped out of 2020 race MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerJayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' Poll: Biden holds 20-point lead in South Carolina Fox News anchor apologizes for saying Booker dropped out of 2020 race MORE (N.J.) have played coy while former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Democrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage 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 Forbes KerryPompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law Deval Patrick's 2020 entry raises stakes in New Hampshire Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide 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.