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Hillary only 'top tier' Democrat in first 2016 preview

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Democratic Party,Hillary Clinton,2016 Elections,Larry Sabato

He admits that it is "absurdly early" to be looking forward to the 2016 presidential primaries, but that's what University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato's team does, and their first look at the Democratic side has only Hillary Clinton in the top tier of likely candidates.

"Clinton's strengths are obvious, although let's not forget that she was also a strong favorite going into the 2008 election," said Sabato, head of the Charlottesville, Va., school's Center for Politics.

What's helping this time, political analysts Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley say in their weekly "Crystal Ball," is the surge of women voting, which reached a high of 58 percent for President Obama last November.

Also: Vice President Biden is considered "second tier" due to his gaffes, age and poor past campaigns for president.

Sabato told Secrets: "It is very rare for a presidential nomination race without an incumbent to have a candidate as dominating as Hillary Clinton is for the Democrats in 2016. Thinking back over all posWorld War II nominations in both parties, the only two comparable cases are: 1960, when Vice President Richard Nixon essentially skated to the GOP nomination (once Nelson Rockefeller decided not to contest him); and 2000, when Vice President Al Gore easily dispatched his one challenger, Sen. Bill Bradley. What's unusual about 2016 is that we have an incumbent vice president who is not the frontrunner for the nomination -- unless Hillary surprises everyone and doesn't run."

Sabato's "third tier" includes Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The "fourth tier" includes Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. A "wild card" is included for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Biden, who has won an even bigger role for himself in his second term, might be able to catch Clinton if he pulls a big stunt like announcing a minority pick for vice president during the primaries, or suggesting he will be a one-term president, said Sabato.

If he ends up losing to Clinton, Biden would be the first sitting vice president to run for president and not get the nomination.