WASHINGTON – The Democratic presidential field consists of a half-dozen candidates now, but that group could grow by at least three or four in the coming weeks, reaching a number that political observers say would not be unusual in a race where there is no clear front-runner.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun are expected to announce their decision in the next week, associates say, which would make them eligible to address the Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington Feb. 20-22. Aides to Moseley Braun said Wednesday she will file papers for an exploratory committee on Tuesday.
Only those candidates who have announced their intentions in a public forum and made plans to form an exploratory committee are allowed to speak, Democratic officials say.
Florida Sen. Bob Graham plans to file papers launching a presidential campaign in the next two or three weeks to begin raising money, according to close associates, but he has put off a final decision on whether to seek the nomination until after he recuperates from heart surgery.
Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart is traveling around the country delivering policy speeches as he mulls over whether to run. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden hasn't ruled out a bid although associates say he is waiting until the fall to make a decision while Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is still considering his options. Former NATO commander Wesley Clark is reportedly keeping an eye on the race, Democratic activists say, although he carefully avoids discussing his plans in public.
"Since there's no front-runner, lots of people think 'Why not?' " said Charles Jones, a presidential scholar and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There's nothing lost, particularly at this early stage, in trying out."
Those already in the race are former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Jones said this is a chance for potential candidates to test their appeal, which can be measured by their ability to raise money and attract talented staff, adding: "Some will peel off before the primaries."