Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at Georgetown University in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

By Anne Gearan and Dan Balz
February 6, 2015 at 6:06 PM

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won’t yet say whether she is running for president, is assembling a massive campaign team-in-waiting that outstrips anything on a Republican side that remains factionalized and focused on knocking off one another.

At this point, without so much as an announcement, she has settled on — at the least — a campaign chairman, a campaign manager, a chief strategist and lead pollster, another pollster, a lead media adviser, a communication director, a deputy communications director, a focus group director and a communications strategist.

She is also closing in on a New York City campaign headquarters and a date to make all of this official.

Some senior staff are signing on without nailing down the usual conditions of a new job, such as a salary or starting date. Recruitment is being led by White House senior adviser John Podesta and manager-designate Robby Mook, with Clinton making many of the final decisions herself.

Clinton faces no competition for Democratic campaign talent and is said to prefer to wait as long as possible to begin campaigning, but she has assured senior advisers that she would put the legal framework of a campaign in place this spring.

The advanced stage of her organization is one of many signs that Clinton is the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination, a status that has scared off serious rivals and allowed her to postpone — perhaps until summer — the day she has to begin rigorous campaigning.

Her effort at this stage looks a lot like an incumbent’s reelection campaign: She will be running largely in support of a sitting president and his agenda, and is busy hiring many of President Obama’s former aides.

Jim Messina, who helped engineer Clinton’s downfall in 2008 as a senior aide to Obama’s campaign, now runs a super PAC devoted to supporting her in 2016. “It’s her turn and her time,” he said on MSNBC this week. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure she’s the president of the United States.”

No Republicans now moving toward active candidacies can say that they are as far along in staffing their upper ranks with the kind of experienced people whom Clinton is bringing aboard. She’s also locking in wealthy donors and has a head start on other ground organizing and fundraising because of the efforts of outside groups supporting her.

But the luxury of front-runner status could easily become a liability as Clinton attempts the historically difficult feat of leading her party to a third consecutive term in the White House.

So her advisers are working hard to fashion ways to make her seem hungrier, scrappier and less like the inheritor of Obama’s mantle. A small but expanding cadre of close advisers is looking at ways to keep her in fighting form through a slow and uneventful early campaign season.

Strategies to distance herself from Obama include a focus on more populist and base-friendly economic issues, as well as suggestions that — despite her tenure as his secretary of state — her foreign policy would be more self-assured than his.
Putting a toe in the water

No one knows better than Clinton that the landscape roughly a year before the first presidential primary contests can be deceiving. She thought she had a lock on the 2008 nomination — only to lose to Obama.

But Democrats supporting Clinton see no one on the horizon this time who could become an Obama, especially now that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has said she is not running.

That leaves Clinton considering what advisers describe as a “soft” or small-scale launch in April that would allow her to raise money and hire staff but delay traditional daily campaigning until the summer. By comparison, Clinton began campaigning for the 2008 election in January 2007.

Although some supporters worry that Clinton risks losing her edge, others said there is little or no down­side to postponing the kind of daily handshaking and speechifying that Clinton often appeared to dislike last time.

Des Moines lawyer and Clinton supporter Jerry Crawford knows there is some hand-wringing among Iowa campaign regulars. At this point in 2007, candidates had established Iowa offices, hired staff and were making regular stops there.

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