The race for the White House has begun in earnest as candidates fan out across the country, introducing themselves to party activists and building the foundations that could lead them to the presidency.
Sure, the Republican primaries are over and the fight between President Obama and Mitt Romney is a dead heat four months before Election Day. But some Democrats aren't even waiting until this November's results are known to begin preparations for the 2016 campaign. As Democratic state parties across the nation hold annual fundraising dinners and conventions, they're finding a roster of prominent surrogates eager to get in front of key activists.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick lead the pack. Both will keynote at least five state party events this year, according to an analysis of Democratic Party plans.
Both Democrats, serving their second terms as chief executives, are on the list of likely candidates to succeed Obama in 2016. And between them, O'Malley and Patrick are splitting the plum prizes--this month, O'Malley keynoted the New Hampshire Democratic convention, while Patrick was the main draw at the Iowa Democratic Party's semiannual gathering.
Patrick will also attend party gatherings in Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Vermont. O'Malley will travel, or has traveled, to Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Maine.
Neither will admit the thought of a presidential campaign had ever crossed his mind. They are each top Obama surrogates; Patrick, who succeeded Romney in the Governor's Mansion, can make the case against Romney's record, while O'Malley heads the Democratic Governors' Association--though, curiously, O'Malley will hit only one state that has a governor's race up this year.
Notably absent from the Jefferson-Jackson dinner circuit are two of the potential front-runners for the 2016 Democratic nomination--Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Biden, of course, has his own reelection to consider, although his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, will appear at North Carolina's annual fete. Cuomo has been reluctant to leave his state or to appear to be looking beyond the Governor's Mansion since taking office last year.
Democrats increasingly are turning to Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker as a top surrogate. Booker will highlight conventions or fundraising dinners in Colorado, Delaware, and Washington state, and both he and O'Malley will share top billing in Louisiana.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will serve as chairman of the Democratic National Convention, will speak at three state party dinners. So will Alice Germond, the longtime DNC secretary, who's slated to appear in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
Other Obama surrogates are hitting major Democratic Party events in Michigan, where former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs will speak; Kansas, which will hear from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; and Wisconsin, which hosted DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz earlier this month.
Some keynote speakers hint at the nature of the states they will visit. Prominent West Virginia Democrats, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Joe Manchin, have refused to endorse Obama; instead of using a prominent Obama surrogate, their annual fundraising dinner will feature former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Missouri, where the Obama campaign has showed little interest in competing, will host Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Beshear's home state is honoring former Sen. Wendell Ford, the last Bluegrass Democrat elected to the Senate).
Other states are tapping either rising stars within the party or longtime legends to help raise money. Texas Democrats will spotlight San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, whose stock is rising as a potential statewide candidate. Mississippi will host Rep. John Lewis, the civil-rights icon. Massachusetts is bidding adieu to Rep. Barney Frank, who is retiring this year. And former President Clinton will head to Minnesota and North Dakota to help out.