Hillary Clinton is almost certainly going to run for president. But what if she doesn't, and the Democratic field winds up wide open?
Right now, Clinton leads in the potential Democratic field with 58 percent, topping Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (11 percent), Vice President Joe Biden (9 percent) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (4 percent). Democrats clearly expect a run for president and would generally support Clinton's candidacy if it happens.
Clinton's lead is much higher than it was at this point in 2006, where she would eventually lose the nomination to a little-known Illinois senator. In a June 2006 Gallup poll, she led with 37 percent among Democrats in a theoretical 2008 matchup, followed by former Vice President Al Gore at 16 percent, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 13 percent, and Secretary of State John Kerry at 12 percent.
But if you take Clinton out of the picture for 2016, the rest of the field either consists of candidates that Democrats don't want or don't know.
Take Joe Biden. The vice president holds a strong 73 percent favorability among Democrats, but clearly Democrats prefer other people to him for the presidency. He's behind Warren in this latest poll by a couple percentage points, and far behind Clinton.
While several Democrats have higher favorable ratings than unfavorable ratings, the percentage of people who haven't heard enough about them is much higher—50 percent for Cuomo, 88 percent for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, 53 percent for Warren, and 88 percent for former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, according to this poll.
If Clinton didn't run, Democrats wouldn't know enough about the rest of the theoretical field to have a clear frontrunner.
Now, this all being said, President Obama was almost nowhere to be found at this point in the election cycle in 2006. He only managed to get the support of 1 percent of all voters when they were asked in June 2006 who they would most like to see elected president in 2008. Obama didn't start hinting he would run for president until later in the summer.
People didn't know much about Obama, but it worked out for him just fine. It could work out for another Democrat, too.
(Image via Flickr user sylartinitaly)