Washington: There are no official candidates so far in the 2016 race for the White House, but one year ahead of the party primaries, the field is filling up, with new faces and some familiar names: Clinton, Bush and Romney.
Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is the runaway frontrunner. But in 2007, she entered the primaries as the favorite, only to finish second fiddle to Barack Obama.
When will the most watched woman in politics make her announcement? Most likely in the spring, campaign-watchers speculate, with some narrowing it down to April.
Harbingers abound: a handful of likely advisors are believed to have already signed on to an expected Clinton campaign.
While Clinton lurks, a major prospective rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren, appeared to withdraw from a potential candidacy.
Asked by Forbes magazine recently if she would run for president, Warren -- hailed by progressives for her crusade against Wall Street excesses -- simply answered "No."While Jeb Bush hogged the presidential spotlight last month, announcing he was actively considering a bid, January has belonged to Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor failed to gain traction in the 2008 presidential primaries and then as the Republican nominee lost to Obama in 2012.
Denying for months his interest in a third challenge, he has begun to tell supporters and donors he is seriously interested in another White House run.
"I think he is pretty far on in terms of his consideration," Thomas Rath, a consultant on two Romney campaigns who recently received a phone call from Romney, told AFP.
"I would expect the answer to come in the closer term rather than the longer term," Rath added.
"He thinks he has a lot to offer and that he would like to serve, and that he`s willing to go through this incredible, difficult campaign to try it again."
Romney may elaborate on his thinking Friday, when he addresses a Republican National Committee meeting.
One advantage, said Rath, is that Romney "doesn`t have the learning curve that some candidates might have to have."
It is rare in US politics for an also-ran to reverse his fortunes and win the White House, although Richard Nixon, defeated in 1960, won the presidency eight years later.
And Ronald Reagan, who lost primary races in 1968 and 1976, was elected in 1980.
"From the standpoint of Mitt Romney, there`s no incumbent, so the field is wide open. There`s no clear frontrunner on the Republican side, and Republicans see Hillary Clinton as someone who can be beat," said Antoine Yoshinaka, assistant professor at American University.
But can Romney, whose image took a battering as an out-of-touch multi-millionaire, restore his economic message?
"Every presidential candidate is going to have to bring to the campaign trail a discussion on how they`re going to improve the quality of life for the middle class," Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, who also received a Romney call, told AFP.Jeb Bush, son and brother to two former presidents, is the most prominent Republican to publicize his presidential interest. He has created a political action committee that has already begun raising funds.
Bush took a conservative line when he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, but he has signalled he would campaign along more centrist themes. His priorities, controversial for core conservatives, include reforming US education and the immigration system.
Apart from Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard boss who is exploring a campaign, all potential Republican rivals are men:
- Governors: Chris Christie of New Jersey, Wisconsin`s Scott Walker, Michigan`s Rick Snyder and Louisiana`s Bobby Jindal.
- Former governors: Texas`s Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, both of whom ran for president in 2012.
- Senators: Libertarian Rand Paul, Tea Party conservative Ted Cruz and Cuban-American Marco Rubio.
- Ben Carson, an African-American neurosurgeon with Tea Party support, and former senator Rick Santorum, champion of the religious right, are also considering campaigns.
Few will become viable candidates. But for the up-and-comers, 2016 could serve as a trial balloon for future attempts at higher office.
"Running for president is so enormously difficult that you often have to go through this cauldron of fire once before you`re successful at becoming the nominee," said Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
"You build up a lot of followers if you get into the race early on, even if your goal is 2020 and not 2016."