Get Ready for the 2015 White House Sweepstakes

Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In 2014, the campaign for the presidential nomination went in different directions for the Republicans and Democrats. Many Republican politicians, sensing that President Obama was weak and that their party would do well in the midterms, began to pursue presidential campaigns. This accelerated after the Republican Party’s long anticipated, but nonetheless impressive, victory in the November elections with a large number of prominent Republicans emerging as candidates. The news in mid-December, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida Governor, was also exploring a presidential campaign did little to dissuade other Republican aspirants from pursuing their campaigns.

The Democratic presidential field, on the other hand, remained unchanged. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who by now is making the mid-1980s Mario Cuomo seem decisive in comparison, began and ended the year as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Ms. Clinton did little to discourage this presumption, but also refrained from formally announcing her bid. Ms. Clinton’s likely candidacy kept the field frozen throughout the year. Other likely candidates remain, including former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who both lack notoriety, and brand names such as Vice-President Joseph Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who are too savvy to announce their candidacy until they know if Ms. Clinton is not running.

In 2015, Republican politicians will still see 2016 as a good opportunity for their party to win the White House, but as the election approaches it will be more difficult for those politicians to present themselves as plausible candidates. Two years before an election, it is easy, and costless, to float one’s name and present a rationale for one’s candidacy or indeed presidency, but as the election approaches that proves more difficult. Over the course of the year, those pursuing the Republican nomination will have to demonstrate that their candidacy is real by building an organization and raising money. Some of these candidates–Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush should be able to do this–but others such as Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal or Rick Perry may struggle. The latter candidates may remain in the race, despite their failure to do this work, but they will not have a meaningful chance of winning the nomination.

The Democratic nominating process could move in precisely the opposite direction. It remains likely that Hillary Clinton will run, and almost certain that if she runs she will win the nomination, but her non-campaign is approaching the point where every day without a formal announcement is noteworthy. Ms. Clinton has already begun to be the target of Republican attacks and, as 2015 dawns, has very little to be gained by postponing her decision. If, however, Ms. Clinton decides not to run, a possibility that by now increases slightly with every passing day, the field will be wide open. No other candidate, with the exception of Vice President Biden has broad recognition; and most other Democratic donors have committed to Ms. Clinton would suddenly be up for grabs.

If Ms. Clinton does not run, Elizabeth Warren, would move to the top of the post-Hillary Clinton field. If that scenario came to pass, Ms. Warren would only be one of many candidates needing to raise money, build an organization, tell their story and get a year or more’s worth of preliminary campaigning done in a few short months.

The Republican field will inevitably be winnowed in the coming months as the stronger candidates begin to emerge and the weaker candidates are reduced to vanity campaigns or job auditions for Fox News. The shape of the Democratic primary lies in the hands of Hillary Clinton. If she runs, she is not likely to face any meaningful opposition, but if does not, the race will become very unpredictable very quickly.

Lincoln Mitchell in national political correspondent at the Observer.

Get Ready for the 2015 White House Sweepstakes