2016-ers Jockey Even Before Congressional Elections

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) -

One set of elections ends in early November as another begins when presidential hopefuls cross the unofficial starting line in the 2016 race for the White House.

With control of the Senate at stake, the months leading up to the mid-term elections offer a clearer window on a crowd of potential presidential candidates already jockeying for position from Nevada to New Hampshire. Their cross-country touring will intensify this fall under the gaze of voters who will pick their parties’ nominees. Look for the would-be contenders to road-test rhetoric, expand coalitions, and consider their own political flaws-while keeping close watch on each other.

Democrats want Hillary Rodham Clinton to carry their flag; the Republican field remains crowded, and wide open. The presidential jousting will be most apparent in states like New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and the site of closely-watched races for governor, Senate and the House.

Whichever party controls the Senate after the November 4 balloting-Republicans need a six-seat gain to win the majority-will say much about what President Barack Obama can accomplish in the final two years of his presidency and the tone of the race to succeed him.

“The end of the 2014 general election does, in a sense, commence a beginning of the presidential primary phase,” says New Hampshire Republican operative Rich Killion. “But an informal, unofficial opening to the process already is underway.”

Here’s a look at potential 2016 candidates and what to expect this fall:

Hillary Rodham Clinton

The former secretary of state’s every word will be parsed for her future plans. But Clinton has been offering plenty of hints that she’s preparing for another campaign.

Her biggest splash could come in Iowa, where she’ll join her husband at Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry fundraiser in Indianola on Sept. 14. The event is billed as a tribute to Harkin, but will generate wide interest as Clinton’s first visit to Iowa since losing the 2008 caucuses.

This fall should give voters a more concrete look at how she might present her candidacy. Her allies are wary of a “third Obama term” label, so Clinton’s speeches and appearances offer a chance to distinguish herself from the president.

She will raise money for Democrats’ four major campaign committees and could help several Senate campaigns where Obama remains a liability.

Joe Biden

Vice President Biden has not ruled out a third presidential bid and expects to be active for Democrats this fall. Whether he’d challenge Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination remains the big question.

Biden headlined high-profile meetings with young voters, liberals and African-Americans. He’s raised money for congressional candidates in Nevada and governors in Connecticut and Illinois. Biden is expected to visit New Hampshire, where he maintains ties to party activists, and Iowa, where Rep. Bruce Braley faces Joni Ernst in one of the top Senate battlegrounds.

Jeb Bush

More than seven years out of office, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been quieter than some of his GOP colleagues as he focuses on private business dealings. He recently said he’d begin a more aggressive schedule to help Republicans this fall.

Rand Paul

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been perhaps the most aggressive prospective candidate.

The ophthalmologist recently squeezed in a mission to perform eye surgeries in Guatemala-and invited news organizations to cover it-between stops in Iowa and South Carolina. He’s confirmed September appearances in California and Virginia, and October visits to North Carolina and New Hampshire, among dozens more possible stops.

The libertarian-leaning Paul is trying to build on the small but passionate coalition assembled by his father. Rand Paul has emerged as a leading GOP voice on foreign and domestic policy.

Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues an aggressive travel schedule this fall as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

He’s announced a trip to South Carolina, where he’ll have a chance to test his message with more conservative voters. He’s also planning trips to Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

Christie leads a delegation of New Jersey business and political leaders to Mexico in early September. And at home, Christie will unveil a budget plan that is sure to draw fury from Democrats and union leaders.

Rick Perry

Eyeing a second presidential bid, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was already facing challenges related to his disastrous 2012 campaign before his recent indictments. His advisers suggest the charges could actually help his political prospects, and he has pressed ahead with visits to Iowa, Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, and more.

Perry heads to Iowa in early September, and then an economic tour across Asia. He’ll turn his attention to helping Republican governors when he returns.

The Texas governor will tour Europe in October.