Hillary Clinton is her party’s unquestioned frontrunner for 2016, but if she chooses not to run – or can’t – Democrats have a deep bench in the U.S. Senate. (More)

Who Else But Hillary? Part I: The Senators

This week Morning Feature considers other possible Democratic presidential candidates for 2016. Today we begin with Democratic senators whose prominence would make them solid contenders. Tomorrow we’ll see House Democrats, members of President Obama’s cabinet, and other Democrats who could make strong bids for our nation’s highest office. Saturday we’ll conclude with why a primary campaign would make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate.

But first …

… here are some oft-mentioned names that I won’t consider:

Note: Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (MT) was briefly considered a 2016 contender, but he flamed out last year after saying then-Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) tripped his ‘gaydar.’

Senator Warren is a progressive favorite, and for good reason. But she’s said she’s not running again and again and again. Former Governor Patrick said the same thing, and Democrats should take them at their word.

That leaves Vice President Biden, Senators Sanders and Reed, Governor Cuomo, former Senator Webb, and former Governor O’Malley. Any or all of them might run – Webb has already formed an exploratory committee – and as their links show, they’re already getting plenty of media attention. I’m just sayin’.

But three other current U.S. Senators would be strong contenders:

Amy Klobuchar (MI)

Two years ago, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza ranked Sen. Klobuchar 8th on his list of ten 2016 possibles and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked her about it in November, but Sen. Klobuchar declined to discuss it before the midterms.

Since then, she has all but committed to support Hillary Clinton:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who’s often mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, has lent her name to a fundraiser for the group Ready for Hillary, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO.

Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is among those listed on an invitation for the June 18 fundraiser launching the group Minnesotans Ready for Hillary.

But again, the premise of our question is who might run if Hillary Clinton doesn’t or can’t run. If that happens, put Sen. Klobuchar near the top of your list. She’s one of the most popular members of the U.S. Senate, and her Senate webpage includes an article saying she wants to run for president someday.

Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

The junior Senator from New York is another solid Clinton backer who may run if Hillary doesn’t:

“I am very hopeful that Secretary Clinton will decide to run,” she said. “I think she’s the strongest candidate the Democrats could field.”

Gillibrand painted herself as one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest supporters, emphasizing that she would pledge her full support for a Clinton run. But she also made sure to highlight her own legislative efforts to help women. Universal prekindergarten, paid leave, and combating sexual assault in the military are all central to creating a better country for women, she said.

Less than 10 minutes into the discussion, Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who was on the panel with the senator, made a veiled reference to the possibility of Gillibrand running. Smiling and angling toward the senator, Burton said he hopes his 3-year-old son will see a woman president, “whether that’s Hillary Clinton or somebody else.”

She was #4 on Cillizza’s list, has written the obligatory political memoir, and she’s said she’ll consider running for president “someday.”

Cory Booker (NJ)

In 2013, Sen. Booker said he “Absolutely yes, unequivocally” won’t run for president in 2016. He was #5 on Cillizza’s list, and Cillizza notes that Sen. Booker would not be the first candidate to change his mind about running for president:

The most famous example is, of course, the current occupant of the White House who flatly told NBC’s Tim Russert in January 2006 he would not run for president in 2008. “I will serve out my full six-year term,” Obama said. “You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things, but my thinking has not changed.’

The Root’s Charles Ellison agrees:

The Garden State senator’s astrophysical ambitions are no mystery to longtime admirers and observers alike. Yet that’s little reason to conclude that Booker’s presidential tea leaves are suddenly bright. American voters have little room in their stomachs for the Harvard-educated, wickedly verbose black man and formerly in-his-mid-40s half-term senator currently occupying the White House, so what makes campaign gamers think they’ll want a reasonable facsimile in 2016?
[…]
Obviously, the horse race prognosticators keep putting their bets on Hillary Clinton as the nominee. But there’s Booker in the back of a crowded field from 1 percent in February to 7 percent in June Public Policy Polling surveys measuring Democratic hopefuls.

I think Sen. Booker is a more likely candidate in the next presidential cycle, but he may decide to run in 2016 if Hillary Clinton can’t or won’t.

Tomorrow we’ll see some House Democrats, Obama cabinet members, and other elected Democrats who could also mount serious runs next year.

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Happy Thursday!