WASHINGTON – Some White House hopefuls will have protection from Secret Service agents on the campaign trail this election season, but if a candidate isn't high-profile enough, they may be left protecting themselves.
Agents recently informed Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton's neighbors in Chappaqua, N.Y., that they were boosting security, according to a report in the New York Post. Clinton receives Secret Service protection since she is a former first lady.
Candidates qualify for Secret Service protection after a committee approves someone as a major candidate.
The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, House speaker and minority leader, Senate majority leader and minority leader and an additional member decide who receives protection and then orders the Secret Service to provide protection for that individual, said Eric Zahren, spokesman for the Secret Service.
No candidates have received protection yet, Zahren said. “Historically, this is way too early,” he added.
It's not unusual for high-profile candidates to get Secret Service detail, analysts say.
Bill Sammon, a FOX News contributor who has covered several presidential candidates, said as candidates get more popular and well-known, increased security becomes necessary.
"It's a sign of the strength of a campaign," Sammon said. "When the Secret Service starts to show up, it's one of those lines you have crossed."
If a candidate is not a serious contender with little or no following in the polls, they won't get the same protection as other high-profile candidates, Sammon said.
"I think from the Secret Service standpoint, they look at it from a perspective from balancing, not just throwing taxpayer money to anybody," Sammon said.
Bob Beckel, a FOX News contributor and Democratic strategist, said it's common for candidates to get extra protection, but it's a new trend for them to get the security detail earlier in the campaign.
Beckel said millions of dollars will be spent protecting candidates. "The cost is going to be substantial," he added.
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan expects to spend $88.5 million next year to protect candidates, according to a report in Newsday.
The total estimate for the 2008 election is $106.6 million, an increase from the $73.03 million spent in the 2004 election.
The Secret Service has been protecting major-party candidates ever since New York Sen. Robert Kennedy was gunned down in June 1968, according to Newsday. Four years later, then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace was shot five times while campaigning in Laurel, Md. He was left paralyzed.
If one candidate gets protection, it's only fair to extend that protection to all candidates, Beckel said.
"I don't see how you could pick out one and not the other," Beckel said.
Beckel said it changes the feel of the campaign and he doesn't think it's necessary.