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Call this a table-top political war game exercise. Everyone is assuming, myself included, that Hillary Clinton is, at minimum, running in 2016 and, perhaps likely, is a strong favorite for the nomination. That being said, what if she decides not to run, for health reasons or otherwise?

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Report from the Washington Post:

Second tier (If she says no, then .?.?.)

Joe Biden: The vice president wants to run. But he knows he would start way, way, way behind Clinton and might not be able to make the race close. On the other hand, if Clinton passes, Biden is in — if not the next day, sometime shortly thereafter.

Martin O’Malley: The Maryland governor makes the second tier because he is the most credible candidate most likely to run, even if the 2016 field includes Clinton. Why? Because O’Malley is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, with no obvious next step other than running for president.

Brian Schweitzer: The former Montana governor wants to run for the White House. While he (sort of) demurs publicly, his statements all have a sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, you-know-what-I-am-saying-ness to them. Although most Democrats in Washington roll their eyes at the idea of a Schweitzer bid, he is a gifted and charismatic communicator.

If Hillary was out, Biden is the presumed next runner up. He is often overlooked and discounted but he retains an uncanny ability to connect with a lot of voters who see him as a fairly regular guy in the midst of the beltway madness.

Beyond the top tier, the list extends:

Third tier (Not interested, but .?.?. )

Andrew Cuomo: The New York governor’s professed lack of interest in the race, once regarded as a sort of coyness that he would eventually shrug off, is now seen as a sign that he doesn’t really want to run. We continue to believe that a race without Clinton would be too hard for the ambitious Cuomo to resist, however.

Kirsten Gillibrand: The senator from New York has emerged as a rising star in the party — a reputation built on her fundraising prowess and her legislative efforts on the issue of sexual assault in the military.

Deval Patrick: After saying for years that he wasn’t interested in running for president, the Massachusetts governor opened the door to the possibility last month. “That’s a decision I have to make along with my wife of 30 years, and she’s a tough one to convince,” Patrick told Politico in a classic open-the-door-a-crack statement.

Elizabeth Warren: Of all nine potential candidates on this list who aren’t Clinton, the senator from Massachusetts would have the most viable path to beating the former secretary of state. A hero among liberals, who don’t love Clinton and never will, Warren is the sort of anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street populist that many Democrats thought they were getting with Obama.

The primary would be far more interesting without Hillary Clinton. There are a mix of views on the Democratic side from far leftists like Elizabeth Warren to more mainstream Democrats like Joe Biden.

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