THE challenge ahead for Hillary Clinton is one faced by few White House hopefuls – running a primary campaign in which she faces little competition, if any at all.
Still not officially a candidate, the former New York senator, secretary of state and first lady is way out in front in the early polls against a small field of potential rivals for the Democratic nomination. None of them seems to be in any hurry to move into the race.
Few Democrats see an insurgent candidate on the horizon in the mould of Barack Obama who defeated Mrs Clinton for the 2008 nomination. That raises the potential of a Democratic primary season with few televised debates and little of the drama expected from a crowded race on the Republican side.
“No-one wants a complete coronation, but it’s hard to see who a credible challenger will be,” said Steve Westly, a California-based fundraiser for Obama’s campaigns who is supporting Mrs Clinton. The lady herself has been meeting in New York with a group of advisers that includes long-time loyalists and veterans of Obama’s races.
However, the work of campaign planning involves trying to establish when to get into the race, how to avoid giving off a sense of inevitability and how to generate enthusiasm among the party’s base for the election without the benefit of a spirited fight for the nomination.
“All indications are that she’s casting a wide net, talking to smart people, and being methodical about thinking through her next steps,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and Clinton ally.
Mrs Clinton’s timeline for announcing her candidacy remains a subject of debate, according to Democrats familiar with the discussions.
Some advisers are pushing the possibility of a springtime announcement. Others suggest she could wait until the summer, giving her team more time to get ready.
Insiders note her husband, Bill Clinton, did not launch his first presidential campaign until October 1991, a few months before the first primaries of the 1992 race.
In the already competitive Republican field, the aggressive moves of former Florida governor Jeb Bush appear to have chased 2012 nominee Mitt Romney into and out of the race.
But the potential Democratic competition is not putting any pressure on Mrs Clinton to move quickly.
Vice-president Joe Biden has said he will not make a decision until the spring or the summer. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a liberal favourite, insists she is not running.
Others, such as ex-Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb and independent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders are relatively unknown nationally and are not expected to decide until later in the spring.
Mrs Clinton appears in no rush. She has a limited number of public appearances in the coming months.
Ready for Hillary, a pro-Clinton super political action committee, has a number of low-dollar fundraisers on the calendar.
The former secretary of state’s main obstacles during a quiet primary campaign could come from Republicans and outside conservative groups, which already are trying to discredit her record at the state department and tie her to Obama’s policies.
“Hillary Clinton clearly feels she’s entitled to the presidency and is taking the race for granted like she did in 2008,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, reflecting the party’s intense focus on the former secretary of state.
Still, there are benefits to the lack of a challenge.
A relatively uncontested primary would give Mrs Clinton a clear path to raise millions of dollars and build a campaign organisation, a benefit normally bestowed to an incumbent president, and perhaps keep her above the political fray.