When Hillary Clinton spoke recently at Georgetown University, 700-seat Gaston Hall was only half full, with far fewer people than heard her there last year and hardly worthy of a presidential front-runner.
University officials cited an overflow crowd for her four weeks earlier, noting students were cramming for finals and the late announcement of this appearance as reasons, rather than disinterest.
But that didn't prevent Republicans as well as pundits and reporters eager to judge a candidacy not yet announced and a campaign not yet launched from deriding the event and tweeting pictures of empty seats.
Her appearance, Dana Milbank, whose column appears on JWR, wrote, had "a faint but unmistakable whiff of indifference." Crowed Britain's conservative Daily Mail: "This is at least the second time in recent weeks that Clinton has been unable to pack a room during an appearance."
Criticism of other recent appearances has been equally pointed.
"Clinton's paid speeches, and the trappings around them, run the risk of making her appear out of touch," wrote The Hill's Peter Sullivan.
Besides preventing more such stories, there seems little reason for Clinton to speed a formal announcement of her 2016 plans unless she decides to shock everyone by not running.
After all, prospective presidential candidates have only three main reasons to make formal announcements this early: to start compiling a war chest after the first allowable date, Jan. 1, 2015; to enhance their name recognition; or to get a head start on prospective rivals.
But Clinton will have no difficulty doing the first, already has 91 percent name recognition according to the Gallup Poll, and will inherit a ready-made campaign organization from the "Waiting for Hillary" organizers. Among other things, they say they have already created a campaign cadre in all 99 Iowa counties, where the formal nominating process begins in 14 months.
She's not an obscure long shot like Jimmy Carter who, 40 years ago this week, launched his 1976 bid, or former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who recently announced he is running.
And if she began to present the rationale for her candidacy now, she'd risk being accused of "same old, same old" when she unveils her candidacy next year. The relevance and significance of her campaign raison d'etre will be a valid subject for speculation and criticism.
But the time to present it is when Americans start to focus on 2016, rather than now in her $250,000 appearances.
If presenting the rationale for her candidacy and goal for her presidency will be her first imperative, the second will be to select a campaign management of professionals familiar with the complex nominating process, a failing in 2008 that some blame for her defeat.
She'll also need to avoid wrapping herself in a cloak of inevitability that displays her campaign as the second coming, rather than reaching out to the voters she hopes to enlist.
And she needs to modulate the role of husband Bill Clinton, who often with the best of motives goes off script. While that's probably inevitable, the more it can be controlled, the better.
Item No. 3 on her to-do list is more specific: figuring out how to win the kick-off Iowa caucuses without her success being downgraded as less than expected.
Frankly, Iowa is potential political quicksand for her and possibly the main threat to her nomination. Its Democrats are more dovish than the overall party, and the Clintons lack deep roots, an outgrowth of the way retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's 1992 candidacy prevented a caucus campaign there when Bill Clinton ran for president.
Inevitably, she'll have to defend again her 2002 vote to authorize President George W. Bush to intervene in Iraq. A guerrilla opponent like Webb is ideally suited to push that issue in Iowa and try to keep Clinton from meeting the exaggerated expectations her current high poll standings have created. The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll in October showed her the first choice of 53 percent of Iowa Democrats with a favorable rating of 76 percent.
But those three imperatives don't require her to rush into the race until she is ready. They do require her to avoid mistakes she made eight years ago, lest the ready army of Clinton critics pounce when it really matters.Carl P. Leubsdorf
The Dallas Morning News (TNS)