By Alexander Bolton - 11/06/13 06:00 AM EST
Suddenly, congressional Democrats are catching Hillary Clinton fever.
It’s still three years until the next presidential election, but already her endorsements from party leaders are piling up.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered a speech in Iowa over the weekend urging Clinton to run in 2016, and other Democrats are touting her potential candidacy.
Democratic strategists say it makes sense for lawmakers to line up behind Clinton — even before she’s announced her candidacy — because she is virtually assured of winning the party’s nomination.
“She’s the prohibitive front-runner. She’s in a stronger position than anyone seeking the nomination other than an incumbent president in the last 40 years,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who worked on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s 2004 bid.
“That’s a powerful inducement for figures to offer her early support,” he said.
Lawmakers also have the chance to get in the former secretary of State’s good graces by making an early endorsement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday pointed out he was on the Clinton bandwagon before Schumer.
“I’ve said long before Schumer got into the act, which usually he beats me to the press ... that she would be a very, very good candidate and I would be very happy to see her run,” Reid said.
Other Democrats are making it known that they want Clinton on the ticket.
Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a close ally of President Obama, said he would love to see Clinton launch a White House bid.
“I think it would be great, I really do,” he said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is seen as a promising presidential candidate in her own right, said she personally encouraged Clinton, whose Senate seat she filled after the 2008 presidential race, to run when they had breakfast together about four months ago.
Democrats have a big reason to cozy up to Clinton: she could provide a major boost to the party in the 2014 cycle.
She could also help candidates down ballot in 2016, much like Obama did in 2008 and 2012 by turning out African-American and young voters in record numbers.
Devine estimates Clinton could rev up turnout among female voters — already a stronghold for Democrats — to 60 percent in 2016.
Rallying behind Clinton could also help Democrats avoid a repeat of 2008, when the grueling primary battle between the former first lady and Obama threatened to tear the party in two.
Schumer, the Senate Democrats’ political messaging guru, has long been an advocate for avoiding messy primaries, and strong early support for Clinton could dissuade her shrinking pool of potential challengers — including Vice President Biden.
Democratic lawmakers also see Clinton as a valuable fundraising ally in the 2014 midterm elections.
“Another reason to get out there so early, and President Clinton is the best example, is the Clintons have demonstrated if you support them, they’ll support you,” said Devine.
“President Clinton campaigned tirelessly for people who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008,” he added.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who hopes to recapture the lower chamber next year, hinted in a recent interview that she might endorse Clinton.
“If she were to run, I think that she would be the candidate, and I think she’d be one of the best prepared — and she would win — and she’d be one of the best prepared people to go into the White House,” Pelosi told The Hill.
“Joe Biden is fabulously talented. He, too, would be great. But I think if Hillary goes, I think the general consensus is that she’s the nominee,” she added.
Every female member of the Senate Democratic Caucus signed a secret letter to Clinton earlier this year urging her to run for president.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of Obama’s earliest supporters in the 2008 Democratic primary, now sees Clinton as the most qualified for the job.
“I was one of the first to do the Ready for Hillary rollout. I’ve been publicly way out there for a while,” McCaskill said. “I can’t recall there ever being someone more qualified to be president of the United States.”
McCaskill said she supported Obama instead in 2008 because “I believe that Barack Obama was and has been, I think, an inspirational president for our country,” and “represented a fresh start for our party.”
She apologized to Bill and Hillary Clinton for saying in a 2006 television appearance that she would not let her daughter go near the former president.
But not all Democrats are convinced they should flock to Hillary Clinton a year before the midterms.
“We just got to get out of this constant campaigning for president,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), whose home state will host the first contest of the 2016 primary.
“I respect Sen. Schumer’s views on this,” Harkin said. “Anybody can say what they want to and support who they want to. I’m just saying I believe it’s too early to get involved in speculating about the presidential race in 2016.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who endorsed Biden’s presidential campaign in 2008, also declined to tout Clinton’s potential candidacy.
“I think that’s three years away and it’s entirely, entirely too early to be talking about anybody running for president. Right now I just want to focus on getting things done here, including a meaningful budget conference report,” he said.
Carper added he remains in frequent contact with the vice president, one of the few Democrats who could give Clinton a credible challenge in 2016.