SIOUX CITY | When it comes to Hillary Clinton, most political observers agree it’s not a matter of if she’ll run for president, but when she’ll announce it.
Several super political action committees are collectively acting as an early de facto campaign organization to ensure Clinton is ready to compete vigorously if she decides to try again to become the first female president. Morningside College history and political science professor Patrick McKinlay said Clinton is clearly lining up to enter.
"It would appear that Secretary Clinton is laying out all the requisite fundamentals for running a campaign," McKinlay said.
All the attention, however, doesn’t mean Clinton, 66, has the Democratic nomination locked up. Political observers point to several candidates who could compete with Clinton, from Vice President Joe Biden to Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio.
Republicans say the outside political action committees are casting Clinton as inevitable -- and they predict that will backfire if she runs.
"Hillary's allies tried this exact playbook eight years ago and it didn't work," said Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising PAC, which has been critical of Clinton's handling of the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Former Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Greg Guelcher, a Morningside College political science professor, said there is room for more candidates and questions whether Clinton will take the plunge at all.
"The Democratic field, as far as I am concerned, is wide open," Guelcher said. "I really am in the minority on this. I do not foresee Hillary Clinton running. By the time the next campaign season is underway, she will be too old. I would say that about a male candidate as well."
The Journal recently asked a group of political observers to gauge who they thought would make formidable presidential candidates if Clinton doesn't enter the race. Their responses may offer an early glimpse at the Iowa caucus ballot 25 months away.
About: The vice president, 71, ran for president in 2008 and has an extensive political history in Washington.
Positives: Knows the key grassroots Democrats in Iowa and has great interpersonal skills, with a penchant for remembering people over the years, O'Brien County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kim Weaver said.
Negatives: Running after being vice president would mean that people who negatively view the Obama administration would attack Biden in 2016, Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairwoman Penny Rosfjord said.
Voters are often looking for "a change-up" from the prior administration, so "it is a hard road to go to the presidency from the vice presidency," Morningside College Professor Patrick McKinlay said.
About: Cuomo 55, is the New York governor and former secretary of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Positives: Strong political pedigree (his dad, Mario, was governor of New York), a successful stint as state attorney general with a record of "bringing corporate interests to heel," McKinlay said.
Negatives: Made some compromises with New York Republicans on pension reform and property taxes that made some Democrats uneasy, University of Iowa Professor Tim Hagle said.
About: Castro, 39, the mayor of San Antonio, spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and is seen as the rising Latino star in the party. Earlier this month, he ruled out a 2016 run, although that could change, Rosfjord said.
Positives: "He is very intelligent, very charismatic and has a good American Dream story," Weaver said.
Former Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Guelcher said Castro’s Hispanic background makes him a contender.
“He is Hispanic, which is nice, because the Democrats need the Hispanic vote," Guelcher said.
Negatives: Youthfulness and a short time on the national stage, Weaver said.
Also, mayors don't typically win nominations to be the party standard bearer, let alone win the presidency, Guelcher said.
About: Klobuchar, 53, is the junior senator from Minnesota. She won in 2006 and last year.
Positives: Better known by Iowans in being from an adjacent state, Weaver said. Knows the means to push legislation in D.C., Rosfjord said.
Negatives: "I don't think she's a seasoned enough politician for a presidential run," Weaver said. Running a national campaign is much more challenging than winning in one state, Rosfjord said.
About: O'Malley, 50, is Maryland governor, winning terms in 2006 and 2010. He also was mayor of Baltimore.
Positives: "He's a popular governor with administrative experience. He is the right age," Guelcher said.
Negatives: Little known outside the eastern U.S.
About: Warren, 64, is a former Harvard Law School professor elected to U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 2012. She came to prominence after becoming chairwoman of the congressional oversight panel that oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Positives: Has proved in Senate that she has the goal "to help the poor up and to protect the middle class," Rosfjord said.
Warren is known for pushing consumer protections and advocating for middle class Americans to flourish as the economy moves further away from recession, McKinlay said.
Negatives: While Warren "seems to have captured the progressive wing" of the party, Democrats might want to swing to a more centrist candidate to win the presidency, Hagle said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.