Dems are marking their turf in preparation for primary battle

When Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Stocks close with second day of steep losses | Dow falls over 800 points as coronavirus fears grow | Kudlow claims virus has been contained | US expects China to honor trade deal amid outbreak Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Senate Democrats urge Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia for election interference 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 ClintonWatch live: Trump holds a rally in South Carolina On the ground at CPAC: Republicans see Sanders as formidable foe Home state candidates risk losing primaries MORE waited until April of 2015 to announce her candidacy, even as some advisors sought to convince her to announce sooner.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMSNBC's Chris Matthews confuses South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate with GOP's Tim Scott Trump surveys South Carolina supporters on preferred Democratic opponent Watch live: Trump holds a rally in South Carolina 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 TrumpTrump endorses former White House physician Ronny Jackson for Congress Newly released emails reveal officials' panic over loss of credibility after Trump's Dorian claims Lindsey Graham thanks Trump, bemoans 'never-ending bull----' at South Carolina rally  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 DelaneyNevada caucuses open with a few hiccups Lobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line 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 HarrisThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg campaign lobbied Yang for endorsement, possible VP offer: report Biden looks to shore up lead in SC MORE (Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg campaign lobbied Yang for endorsement, possible VP offer: report Warren calls for changes to presidential pardon power, pledges to create clemency board MORE (N.J.) have played coy while former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump surveys South Carolina supporters on preferred Democratic opponent Watch live: Trump holds a rally in South Carolina Biden, Klobuchar to address AIPAC via video 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 KerryDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents John Kerry: Democratic debate 'was something of a food fight' 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.