Democratic activists playing 'wait and see' in Iowa and New Hampshire

With up to two dozen Democrats seriously considering a run for the nomination in 2020, activists in Iowa and New Hampshire – who would normally be committed to a candidate by now – are holding back, waiting to see who will actually be running.

The top tier of contenders – former V.P. Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and losing Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke – have yet to make any moves in states with early primaries, so donors and campaign workers have yet to decide who to support.

NBC News:

The expected large field and lack of an overwhelming favorite heading into the contests explains the slower dance among candidates, according New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley.

"It's highly unusual for us not to have an assumed frontrunner, or someone of such significance that they would automatically dominate the field. We don't have that this cycle," Buckley said.

Hillary Clinton filled that role at this stage in both the 2008 and 2016 contests, while in 2012 President Barack Obama was running for re-election.

Activists in both states expect things to ramp up in January, when several likely contenders will announce they're forming exploratory committees or declare flat out that they are running.

Warren is expected to make her first visit to Iowa early next year, having intentionally stayed away in 2018 while running for re-election to the Senate.  Harris may time a presidential announcement around a multi-city tour to promote her new book, "The Truths We Hold," which comes out on Jan. 8.

Still, given the large field expected, local Democratic organizers say they've been surprised by the relatively slow start in the two states where presidential politics can be a full-time endeavor.

It may be that the new date for the California primary on March 3 is forcing some candidates to re-evaluate the structure of their campaigns.  No longer will a candidate virtually move in to Iowa or New Hampshire in order to strike an early blow and gain momentum.  The game-changing primary in California will require massive amounts of money to buy ads in the most expensive media markets in the country.

Still, a little known candidate with limited resources may see Iowa or New Hampshire as his only shot.  Unable to seriously compete in California, he may see his chance in generating buzz and winning an early state.  It would be less than a month after the New Hampshire primary, not enough time to create an organization or do the kind of fundraising necessary to challenge the Big Three in California.  But a good showing might allow such a candidate to fight another day.

O'Rourke is the wild card.  His close loss in Texas to Ted Cruz might have whetted his appetite to go for the brass ring.  Can he translate his popularity with the left into votes in more conservative states like Iowa and New Hampshire?  In a big field, the most committed activists can help a candidate like O'Rourke pull off an upset.  With so many national Democrats whispering in his ear to run, it may be too hard to resist.

Lest you think it's far too early to be talking about this stuff, the Democrats announced that the first of 12 candidate debates will happen in June 2019.

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