Why you should care

Because you can’t play the field unless you know the field, and you can’t know the field unless you’ve thought about its lurking surprises.

If you’re a political junkie, the fun has started all over again. The talk shows are full of 2016 talk. Candidates are auditioning, teams are being formed and the next big issues to shape the national narrative are being raised. Unless you’re a Democrat.

In that world, all is quiet. That’s of course because anyone with a pulse and insight expects former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run and win the nomination. She may be the most prohibitive nonincumbent favorite for a major party’s nomination since Ulysses S. Grant — seriously.

But what if she doesn’t run? What if, for some completely unexpected reason (we’ll leave it to others to let the guesses fly on that), she decides not to make the bid? In addition to the veep, good Uncle Joe, who’d certainly fill in the gaps, who else might we have on our plate for 2016?

Oh, and just in case you didn’t get your probability fix out of these mad days of March, we’re giving you some odds, too.

Elizabeth Warren — Odds: 4:1

This is the easiest one. If Hillary were not in the race (and possibly even if she were in it, as some have conjectured), the Oklahoma-born special-ed teacher turned Harvard law professor, single mother and defender of the $22-minimum-wage would be one of two Massachusetts candidates aiming for Pennsylvania Avenue. The 64-year-old would have perhaps the most passionate support base in the party, and could easily raise $100 million. As a former Republican, the self-titled intellectual architect of Occupy Wall Street would introduce perhaps the most intriguing economic discussion in American presidential politics since candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. And if you needed more proof of her ambitions, you’re in luck: her autobiography, A Fighting Chance, hits shelves in April. Still — what will haunt Warren? Her single-mindedness, her greatest asset, might end up tainting her as an ideologue. Could she survive a conservative shark tank filled with the repetitive mantra of “class warfare”?

Martin O’Malley — Odds: 20:1

The former Baltimore mayor and two-term Maryland governor may run even if HRC does move ahead — just to get a bit of name recognition. Without her in the race, he’s an intriguing entry. An attractive, young white politician who won two terms in predominantly black Baltimore, he’s a forceful progressive in a spirited contest, and a former campaign manager to boot. If his campaign took off, he’d forcefully recall Robert F. Kennedy. But he’s not just a font of charisma: 51-year-old O’Malley has been serious about governing since his days as mayor of crime-filled Baltimore. And while he’s earned criticism for falling short on crime — he certainly doesn’t have Cory Booker-style Twitterventions or crime reduction stats — he spent much of his time trying to be the Batman for his city. On the national stage, he fought to make Dems look tough on security during the Bush days, which was not an easy task. And in this data-crazed age, O’Malley boasts a record of pushing for a number of stats programs to do the down-and-dirty digging to track government efficiency. Not the sexiest of programs, but perhaps nice proof of a get-things-done mentality that would surely shape his story. Could he win? Could he raise big money? Or would he end up just being this year’s Tim Pawlenty?

Rahm Emanuel — Odds: 6:1

The 54-year-old former ballet dancer and White House chief of staff could become the first serious mayoral contender for president since John Lindsay in 1972. He enjoyed a high-profile run as the first Jewish mayor of the Windy City and has a pragmatist’s touch on education and job creation that evokes a latter-day LBJ. His time hasn’t been free of controversy (see: the largest public school closure in the city’s history under his board of ed). But now, Emanuel’s brashness — once a mixed blessing — seems to fit the bill. You have to be tough to deliver as mayor of Chicago. If Emanuel ran, he’d likely bring with him part of the Obama machine, including David Axelrod. Plus, with the support of his $35 million brother Ari, he’d have truckloads of Hollywood money to pair with his Wall Street cash and Chicago coin. So, would voters in Iowa and New Hampshire warm up to him? Unclear. But if they did, Emanuel would be on his way to another pioneering first: first Jewish major party presidential nominee. Then again, his nomination might ring less pioneering and more like a familiar family empire — remember the Kennedys?

Deval Patrick — Odds: 10:1

Here’s the other face to watch out of Massachusetts — and he’s not a new one. Obama famously gave credit to Massachusetts’ two-term governor for some of the key themes of his 2008 campaign; just a few days ago, the president added to it by saying Patrick would make a great prez … or VP. Which makes Patrick the one other Democrat whom Obama has publicly talked up as a White House contender. But does the 57-year-old son of a Chicago single mother and former corporate lawyer have what it takes to put another African-American on Pennsylvania Avenue? His long career as a lawyer, from suing Mike Tyson to serving as assistant attorney general in the DoJ, will serve him well. But one thing he may be missing is the basso voice (surprisingly, increasingly important). However, the former English major proved at the 2012 Democratic Convention that he’s an electric speaker. Also sure to be in play will be his meaningful record on crime, his push to bring casino money to his state, Massachusetts’ public education boom, and his state’s ahead-of-the-curve stance on gay marriage. Doesn’t hurt that he could probably raise meaningful money. We should ask: Does being the second black candidate in a row hurt or help?

Color portrait of Bloomberg

Source Rubenstein

Michael Bloomberg – Odds: 12:1

You read right. The 16th-richest man in the world hasn’t peaked yet, and Bloomberg’s long wanted to run for President. And at 72, he’s coming up against the end of his chances. His pile of legacies — including founding Bloomberg News and cracking down on smoking and soda — might have room for one more. The Democrat turned Republican turned independent considered running in 2008, and again in 2012. But the one-time information technology leader got scared off. Since then, Diana Ross’ former boyfriend may have assumed that his moment passed. But if his fellow New York transplant HRC were to bow out, would the former engineer consider bringing his maverick brain to the White House? In a heartbeat. But could he get through a Democratic primary or would only the moneyed classes like him? A challenge — but maybe. He’s long supported liberal favorites like immigration (representing himself as anti harsh-deportation laws), pro-choice (speaking out against the Roberts court nomination) and, more recently, U.N. efforts to combat climate change. One path: He could talk tough on guns and bad schools, present himself as a creative leader on economics, a knowing grown-up in the world of petty politics. And if the other side yields a candidate like Jeb Bush who pushes the debate to the center, few would stack up against him better than Bloomberg.

It goes on: Wildcards

If you’re a political junkie, you always want more.

Even more possibilities: the Lincoln-esque John Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner who’s seen his state of Colorado through some big-time tragedies with the kind of grit only an amateur stuntman could pull. Wendy Davis (Obama’s classmate at Harvard could definitely run — in those pink sneakers — if she’s elected governor of Texas this year). Andrew Cuomo (yes, everyone knows he would run, but could he win? It’s still unclear). Cory Booker (perhaps too tempting: Everyone would want him to jump in, but we can’t help but think of Jeb Bush’s 2012 stutter-step-and-wait). Or Kirsten Gillibrand (the junior New York senator known for her Blue Dog sensibilities and her work on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell).

Whatever the dance, it’s a more peopled field out there than you know. Which always makes for great drama. Let the curtain rise.

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