WASHINGTON -- In the latest prep work for a presidential campaign, Rand Paul is conspicuously courting moderate and establishment Republicans while Ted Cruz keeps up a travel schedule that has 2016 written all over it. Jeb Bush is stirring from something of a political snooze and a half-dozen other credible prospects are getting their voices heard in the din.
As for Democrats, a Hillary Rodham Clinton book coming out in June is about as exciting as it gets these days.
The suspense of a Democratic nomination race is in suspension until the party's dominant figure decides whether to run or someone goes for the prize without waiting for her to make up her mind. She sounds and acts a bit more like a candidate by the month, which doesn't necessarily mean she'll be one.
In both parties, potential contenders are best judged by what they do -- and where they go, like Iowa and New Hampshire -- not by what they say. Most are keeping up with the fiction that they are not really thinking about running for president even as they transparently position themselves to run for president.
Cruz has visited Iowa four times in the past eight months, and New Hampshire and South Carolina three times each, and claimed that's got nothing to do with presidential campaign politics, which no one believes. "I think it's too early to worry about 2016," the Texas senator said with a straight face.
For months, many prospective 2016 presidential candidates have been networking with party leaders, donors and activists. They've published or announced books. They're using TV appearances to become household names, at least in households tuned to the Sunday or cable news shows.
With a few notable exceptions, their preparations have accelerated since The Associated Press began broadly tracking their activities last summer. Yet even as most march through a pre-campaign checklist, they are keeping their options open should they decide to sit out the race.
Aside from Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady, potential Democratic contenders include Vice President Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Among Republicans in the mix: Bush, the former Florida governor; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Cruz; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Kentucky Sen. Paul; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
A look at who's doing what:
NONDENIAL DENIAL: Cagey words that cloak presidential ambitions, none too convincingly.
Biden: "If I decide to run, believe me, this would be the first guy I talk to. But that decision hasn't been made, for real. And there's plenty of time to make that." April, CBS, in joint interview with President Barack Obama.
Clinton: "I am running. Around the park." -- in May, to Barbara Walters. Earlier in the month to a Maryland audience: "Stay tuned." Says she'll decide this year whether to run.
Cuomo: "I'm sorry, I'm losing you. We have a technical difficulty. I'm running for governor of the state of New York." -- Seeming not to hear a question about his presidential intentions. February, Fox Business Network.
O'Malley: "No one ever goes down this road, I would hope, without giving it a lot of consideration and a lot of preparation and a lot of thought work, and so that's what I'm doing." -- February, speaking to reporters in Baltimore.
Bush: "I can honestly tell you that I don't know what I'm going to do." -- His standard disclaimer. Says he'll decide by end of year whether to run. One factor in his decision: Whether he can run an optimistic campaign and avoid the "mud fight" of politics.
Christie: "Yes, and later." -- When asked if he's thinking about running for president, and when he'll decide, at a fiscal conference in Washington in May.
Cruz: "My focus is entirely on the U.S. Senate." -- His standard disclaimer
Jindal: "My honest answer is I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2016." -- February, speaking to press while in Washington for governors meeting.
Paul: "We're definitely talking about it, my family is talking about it. I truly won't make my mind up until after the 2014 elections. But I haven't been shy in saying we're thinking about it." -- March 9, Fox News.
Perry: "I don't know whether I'm going to run for the presidency. I'm going to spend the time in preparation." -- April, in Ohio.
Rubio: "It's something I'll consider at the end of this year." -- May, on ABC. Does he feel ready to be president? "I do, but I think we have other people as well."
Ryan: "Janna and I are going to sit down in 2015 and give it the serious ... conversation, consideration that are required for keeping our options open. But right now I have responsibilities in the majority in the House of Representatives that I feel I ought to attend to, and then I'll worry about those things." March, CBS.
Santorum: "I don't know if I can do this. It's just tough." -- April, AP interview. Timing of decision? "A year at least, probably."
Walker: "I'm really focused on 2014, not getting ahead of the game. ... You guys can predict all you want." -- January, CNN.
WRITING A BOOK: The perfect stage-setter for a campaign season, just ask Barack Obama ("The Audacity of Hope," 2006; "Dreams from My Father," 2004)
Biden: No, not since before 2008 election.
Clinton: Yes, "Hard Choices" due for release June 10.
Cuomo: Yes, coming in 2014.
O'Malley: No. "I'm not sure where I'd find the time for that." It's probably only a matter of time before he finds time.
Bush: Yes, on immigration.
Cruz: Yes, book deal disclosed by his agent in April.
Jindal: Not since before 2012 election.
Paul: No, not since just before the 2012 election.
Perry: Not since before 2012 election.
Rubio: Yes, coming in late 2014 from the publisher of his 2012 memoir.
Ryan: Yes, coming in 2014.
Santorum: Yes, "Blue Collar Conservatives" released in late April, says: "Do Republicans really care less about the person at the bottom of the ladder than Democrats do? To be painfully honest, I would have to say in some ways 'yes."'
Walker: Yes, out in fall 2013.
GO TO IOWA: Its caucuses are the opening act of the nomination contest.
Biden: Yes, spoke at Sen. Tom Harkin's fall 2013 steak-fry fundraiser, a must-stop for many Democrats seeking to compete in the leadoff caucuses. Then in May, attended party for Iowans who came to Washington for annual lobbying trip. Raised money for Iowa congressional candidate Jim Mowrer. Schmoozed with Iowa power brokers during 2013 inauguration week in Washington.
Clinton: No, avoiding big primary/caucus states. But Ready for Hillary is mobilizing for her in the state.
O'Malley: Yes, headlined Harkin's 2012 fundraiser.
Bush: Has been holding off on splashy visits to early voting states but plans spring fundraiser in Florida for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. Attended 2012 economic development meeting in Iowa.
Christie: Yes, in 2012. More travel driven by politics in the cards now that he's chairman of Republican Governors Association for 2014 election year.
Cruz: Yes, four visits in eight months.
Jindal: Yes, summer 2013 visit, then flew with Iowa governor to governors association meeting in Milwaukee. In Iowa seven times in 2012.
Paul: Yes, three times in 2013. In March, snagged the state GOP chairman, who announced he was quitting to join Paul as an adviser.
Perry: Yes, third trip since November coming up: He's to campaign for Gov. Terry Branstad in late spring. Visited Des Moines suburbs and Davenport in February, meeting GOP activists and attending an event with business leaders sponsored by Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. Met Branstad and addressed Des Moines crowd of 400 in November.
Rubio: Yes, just days after 2012 election, but has been largely holding off on a new wave of trips to early voting states. That's changing.
Ryan: Yes, was keynote speaker for Iowa GOP's big fundraising dinner in Cedar Rapids in April. Main speaker at governor's annual birthday fundraiser in November 2013, in first visit since 2012 campaign.
Santorum: Yes, recent visit with strategists and media. August 2013 speech to conservative Christians in state where he won the 2012 caucuses. Screened his new Christmas movie in Iowa in November.
Walker: Yes, fundraiser last year.
GO TO NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nation's first primary comes after Iowa and is just as important.
Biden: Yes, raised money for three Democrats in March visit for job-training event. Quipped: "I'm here about jobs -- not mine."
Clinton: No. But Ready for Hillary has sent people there this year.
O'Malley: Yes, spoke at Democratic Party dinner in November. Also spoke at 2012 convention of New Hampshire Democrats.
Christie: Yes, three times in 2012.
Cruz: Yes, three times since August.
Jindal: Yes, keynote speech to local Republican organization in March, headlined state GOP fundraiser in 2013, visited twice in 2012.
Paul: Yes, addressed Freedom Summit in April. Won straw poll at March meeting of Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua. Several visits last year.
Rubio: Yes, splashy debut in May, first visit of the 2016 season, headlining fundraisers, meeting local officials, giving interviews. Multiple visits before 2012 election.
Ryan: Yes, headlined Manchester fundraiser in February for former House colleague. Canceled October 2013 visit because of government shutdown.
Santorum: Yes, March speech to Northeast Republican Leadership Conference marked his return to a state where he performed weakly in 2012 campaign.
Walker: Yes, headlined a GOP state convention in October 2013, keynote at state party convention in September 2012.
DON'T FORGET SOUTH CAROLINA: First Southern primary and big in its own right.
Biden: Yes. In May, gave commencement speech at University of South Carolina and headlined Democratic fundraiser, first visit since he spoke at state party's annual fundraiser a year earlier. Several earlier visits since 2009.
Clinton: No, but things are stirring. At a May meeting in Columbia partly sponsored by Ready for Hillary, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine urged Democratic women to "think about pledging your support right now" to ensure she has "millions of us ready to take the field with her" if she runs.
O'Malley: Yes, in May to campaign for state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Democratic candidate for governor. Also made a 2013 speech to Democratic activists.
Bush: Yes, 2012 speech.
Christie: Yes, helped Mitt Romney raise money in 2012.
Cruz: Yes, speech at The Citadel military college in April was third visit in a year, following event with religious conservatives in November and speech to annual state GOP dinner last May.
Jindal: Yes, third visit in a year coming in June, as keynote speaker at state GOP's biggest gathering, the Silver Elephant dinner.
Paul: Yes, foreign policy speech at The Citadel military college and small GOP fundraiser in Charleston in November 2013 visit; headlined several fundraisers earlier in year.
Perry: Yes, two-day visit in December 2013, addressed state GOP. In August, raised money for Gov. Nikki Haley's re-election campaign.
Rubio: Yes, headlined 2012 Silver Elephant dinner.
Ryan: Yes, in 2012 campaign.
Santorum: Yes, April GOP event at The Citadel military college, where two sons are cadets. Campaigned in April 2013 for Curtis Bostic in GOP House runoff race; Bostic lost.
Walker: Yes, attended August fundraiser for Haley, who came to Wisconsin to campaign for him in 2012 recall vote.
GO ABROAD: Helps to give neophytes foreign policy cred, and Israel is a touchstone for U.S. politicians.
Biden: You bet. Visited Ukrainian capital in April to symbolize U.S. commitment to new government in its struggle against pro-Russian insurgents and threatening signals from Moscow. Brazil coming up in June. Long at forefront of Obama administration's diplomatic maneuvers with Kiev. Sent to Poland and Lithuania in March to reassure NATO allies anxious about Russia's annexation of Crimea. December 2013 visits to China, Japan and South Korea. Countless trips to Iraq and Afghanistan during first term.
Clinton: Another globe-trotter, nearly 1 million miles as secretary of state. Limited overseas travel in 2013: honorary degree at St. Andrews University in Scotland in September; trip to London in October for a diplomacy award and a fundraising concert for the family's foundation. Attended memorial services for Nelson Mandela in South Africa in December. Two recent speeches in Canada.
Cuomo: Not much lately. Israel twice in 2002.
O'Malley: Yes, considerable. Israel last year for a second time as governor; also visited there as Baltimore mayor. Also Denmark, Ireland, France, Brazil and El Salvador in 2013. Asia in 2011, Iraq in 2010.
Bush: Yes, usually several overseas trips a year. Three times to Israel since 1980s.
Christie: Yes, Israel and Jordan in 2012.
Cruz: Yes, first visit to Israel in December 2012, again in January 2013 as part of Senate Republican delegation that traveled to Afghanistan, too.
Jindal: January 2014 trade and investment mission to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, first time overseas as governor. Canada in August 2013 to speak to oil industry about his support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Paul: Yes, Israel and Jordan in 2013.
Perry: Yes, has visited Israel numerous times including an October trip that included a photo op with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting Cabinet members and a separate stop in London to see British officials and financial leaders.
Rubio: Yes, visited the Philippines, Japan and South Korea in January, foreign policy speech in London in early December and Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan in February 2013. Also went to Israel after 2010 election to Senate.
Ryan: Yes, Middle East during congressional career; visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Santorum: Scant foreign travel while in the Senate drew notice in 2012 GOP campaign.
Walker: Yes, China in 2013 trade mission.
MEET THE MONEY: To know donors now is to tap them later.
Biden: Yes, actively fundraising for Democratic committees and candidates in 2014 midterms. Headlined fundraiser at home of Biden donor in Florida for House candidate Alex Sink in February; Sink lost the special election in March.
Clinton: Can tap deep well of Democratic and activist money. Bill Clinton's vigorous fundraising for Democratic candidates further expands that potential source of donors for her. She's been raising money for Clinton foundation. The super PAC Ready for Hillary has raised nearly $6 million since its founding last year to support a candidacy. Priorities USA said in January it will back Clinton if she runs, signaling support from senior members of President Barack Obama's campaign team. Prominent bundlers such as Hollywood moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and Haim Saban have indicated their support.
Cuomo: Flush coffers for 2014 governor's race.
O'Malley: Yes, Has many bases covered as one of the party's top fundraisers. Raised more than $1 million for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and in December ended his year as finance chairman for the Democratic Governors Association.
Bush: Yes, addressed well-heeled crowd at Manhattan Institute, led by GOP benefactor Paul Singer, in May. Flew to Las Vegas in March to meet GOP superdonor Sheldon Adelson and address Republican Jewish Coalition at Adelson's company airport hangar. In February, his short video for a GOP fundraiser at Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Florida, estate was a bigger hit than Cruz's keynote speech. Party in summer of 2013 for his immigration book at home of Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a leading Republican bundler. Has longtime Wall Street connections.
Christie: Yes, became GOP governors chairman in November 2013, giving him regular access to GOP's top national donors as he helps raise money for candidates. Some big donors, though, question whether he's still a viable prospect after scandal surfaced over politically motivated traffic tie-ups in New Jersey. Was among a handful of high-profile Republicans to meet with super donor Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas at his resort casino in late March. Went on an aggressive national fundraising tour in early 2013, courting GOP donors in New York City, the Washington area, Boston and Miami. Also raised money in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and California, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted an event at his Palo Alto home.
Cruz: Yes, met in March with top California conservative donors and keynoted Trump fundraiser. Has list of potential donors that's still growing after he collected more than 1.5 million signatures for the online petition "Don'tFundObamaCare," which he began in 2013.
Jindal: Yes, met leading GOP donors in New York City, as most GOP prospects do over time. Among prospective candidates who visited Iowa GOP donor Bruce Rastetter's farm in August 2013 for annual fundraiser for the governor.
Paul: Yes, headlined luncheon in April at Boston-area equity firm led by Romney's former national finance chairman and Romney's oldest son, Tagg, an event that drew together the 2012 presidential candidate's inner circle. Also attended Romney's 2013 Utah retreat. Has met GOP donors in New York City.
Perry: Yes, has proven an effective fundraiser, both from grassroots activists and mainstream Republicans. Has led many job-poaching missions in big states with Democratic governors and met privately during those trips with key donors, especially in New York and California.
Rubio: Yes, aggressive national fundraising outreach, including trips to New York and California to meet potential donors. Raised more money last year than potential rivals Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Among a handful of possible candidates to attend September 2013 event at home of Woody Johnson, New York Jets' owner and Mitt Romney's national finance chairman.
Ryan: Yes, attracts Wall Street interest. Addressed GOP donor Paul Singer's Manhattan Institute at same May event that heard from Bush. Had a follow-up reception with Singer and another big donor, Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a national finance chairman for Romney's last presidential bid. Attended Romney's 2013 Utah retreat, has money connections from 2012 campaign.
Santorum: 2012 shoestring campaign was largely fueled by a super political action committee to which Republican donor Foster Friess gave more than $2 million.
Walker: Yes. Addressed Republican Jewish Coalition at a Las Vegas gathering in March where main attraction was Adelson, who's looking where to place his bets in GOP field. Headlined 2013 fundraisers in New York and Connecticut.
NETWORK LIKE MAD: Taking their case to ideologues, activists and party heavyweights who hold great sway in nomination race.
Biden: And how. Says he plans to campaign in more than 100 races in the 2014 election. Meets regularly with former Senate colleagues and congressional Democrats. Gives keynote speeches at annual state Democratic Party dinners across the country. Making calls for House Democrats' campaign organization, assisting in recruitment of candidates. Campaigned for new Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. Speaks regularly to special interests.
Clinton: In May, attended her first political event of the year, a fundraiser for Pennsylvania congressional candidate Marjorie Margolies, mother-in-law of Chelsea Clinton. A steady presence now on the speaking circuit, delivering paid speeches to industry groups and conferences and appearing before college crowds and groups with ties to the Democratic coalition.
Cuomo: Sparingly. Rarely leaves New York.
O'Malley: Yes. Busy spring, with speeches to California Democratic state convention in March, Wisconsin Democrats in April and Massachusetts Democrats in May. "I'm going to do quite a bit more traveling this summer ... supporting like-minded Democrats in states with important races," he wrote in a May fundraising letter from his political action committee. Was Democratic governors' chairman for two years until December 2012.
Bush: Doing more this year politically after a long period of "a little self-restraint." Already a GOP establishment favorite; House Speaker John Boehner has been nudging him to run. Recent travels to Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas. Endorsed GOP establishment favorites in North Carolina Senate and California governor primaries. Skipped Conservative Political Action Conference in March, after giving keynote speech to the influential group a year earlier.
Christie: Yes, vigorous outreach now as the new Republican Governors Association chairman. Also spoke in March to Conservative Political Action Conference, which snubbed him last year. Addressed Republican Jewish Coalition spring meeting in Las Vegas, spending a full day with top donors and GOP operatives.
Cruz: Yes, vigorously. Spoke by video to National Rifle Association's April leadership forum. Addressed Conservative Political Action Conference in March, after landing the group's coveted keynote role in 2013. Has engaged in persistent courting of religious and economic conservatives in Texas and beyond; pitched social conservative principles at Values Voter meeting in October, while also meeting privately beforehand with evangelical leaders. Addressed 2012 Republican National Convention before he was even elected to the Senate.
Jindal: Big time and small time, far and wide. Giving May commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia, a familiar stop for prospective candidates, then South Carolina speech in June. Addressed NRA annual leadership forum in April, Conservative Political Action Conference in March, also in 2013. Made time for fundraiser for local sheriff in Michigan. Altogether, has spent much of his time during six years as governor on the road, talking to GOP and activist groups, supporting Republican candidates and promoting achievements. Has close ties with social conservatives. Created political action committee to help conservative candidates running for Congress, giving him continued opportunities to network nationally.
Paul: Yes, and now roaming freely beyond tea party tent. Had private audience in April with Romney's 2012 campaign advisers, is helping Republicans across political spectrum, including moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, and has pitched in with party leaders to heal divisions from last campaign. In April brought message of unity to state GOP convention in Maine, where a struggle over delegates created raw tensions between GOP establishment and libertarian or tea party supporters of his father in 2012 campaign. Generated buzz and won symbolic straw poll at Conservative Political Action Conference in March.
Perry: Yes, spoke at past two Conservative Political Action Conferences as well as its regional meeting in St. Louis in September. Addressed conservative activists at a RedState Gathering in New Orleans in August, mistakenly saying he was in Florida. Job-pitching tour in various states helps make connections.
Rubio: Yes, stepping it up. Private audience with Republican National Committee in Memphis in May, right after his New Hampshire trip. Earlier outreach to conservative and party activists focused on repairing tea party relationships strained over immigration. Well-received speech to Conservative Political Action Conference in March. In Virginia governor's race, campaigned for Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who lost. Speech to National Rifle Association in April; also foreign policy speech at University of Texas, more.
Ryan: Yes, prime networker as 2012 vice presidential candidate; now helping fellow House members raise money.
Santorum: Addressed NRA convention in April; speeches to groups around the country, including Conservative Political Action Conference. His Christian-themed film company is his calling card with religious conservatives.
Walker: One of only a few 2016 prospects who spoke to Republican Jewish Coalition. Skipped the big Conservative Political Action Conference in March, appeared there last year. Campaigned for GOP in Virginia governor's race. Spoke to Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island in September 2013.
HOG THE TV: Achieving national recognition by sermonizing on the Sunday news shows, or going for soft questions and easy laughs on late-night TV.
Biden: He's back. After being largely absent from the airwaves for more than a year, Biden has resumed frequent interviews, including joint TV appearance with Obama in April. He did a TV blitz the morning after the State of the Union, a CNN interview aboard an Amtrak train and dished on his skin care routine and his wife's oddball pranks during an interview with Rachael Ray. But not a Sunday news show fixture.
Clinton: No. But showed up for Barbara Walters' last taping of "The View" in May. Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel interviewed her at Arizona State University in March. Appeared with Obama on CBS' "60 Minutes" early in 2013; gave interview to Walters late that year.
Cuomo: No. Prefers radio.
O'Malley: Getting back in the swing. January 2014 Sunday news show appearance on CNN was first in months, followed by CBS in February.
Bush: Blanketed the five Sunday shows one day in March 2013 to plug his book on immigration, a few appearances other times.
Christie: Not so much since traffic scandal surfaced. Before that, liked to cut up on late-night TV. Four Sunday news shows after his 2013 re-election.
Cruz: Yes, several Sunday news show appearances already this year, plenty last year. Frequent guest on Fox News and CNN.
Jindal: No, only a couple of Sunday news show appearances since 2012 election.
Paul: Leader of the chattering pack with more than a dozen Sunday talk show appearances since 2012 election, including one in April from New Hampshire. Frequent guest on news networks, especially Fox.
Perry: Raising his profile lately, making several national TV appearances while starring in flood of media spots in California designed to persuade businesses based there to move to Texas. On NBC's "Meet the Press" in May: "I'm going to be across the country talking about red-state versus blue-state policies. Hopefully engaged in a good, thoughtful, winsome conversation about how do we make America more competitive."
Rubio: Staying on par with most rivals in Sunday news show appearances, did one from New Hampshire in May. Blanketed all five Sunday shows one day in April 2013 to talk about immigration, before he dropped the subject. Frequent guest on news networks.
Ryan: Many Sunday news show appearances since 2012 election. Occasional guest on network news.
Santorum: Yes, promoting his new book. Plugged his Christmas movie on "The Colbert Report," Fox News, MSNBC and more. Radio, too. Teamed up with Democrat Howard Dean as sparring partners for debates on the air and with audiences.
Walker: Already on the Sunday news show scoreboard for 2014. Half dozen or so Sunday news show appearances since 2012 election. Also, Piers Morgan, Lou Dobbs, more national TV interviews.
ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING: For voters who want to support doers, not just talkers.
Biden: Leading Obama's review of federal job-training programs, prime player in U.S. response to Ukrainian crisis. His office co-chaired a White House task force to address sexual assault on campuses. Point man on gun control, which failed. Negotiated fiscal cliff deal.
Clinton: Record as secretary of state, senator and first lady. Recent initiatives to help children's health and education and status of women.
Cuomo: 2014 budget proposal calls for tax cuts for businesses, homeowners and renters. In 2013, pushed through nation's first gun-control law after the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre. Led New York's effort to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011. Minimum wage boost, on-time budgets, teacher standards.
O'Malley: Toughened gun laws, repealed death penalty, saw voters approve gay marriage after he got behind legislation to approve it, set up a framework to develop offshore wind power, won legislative approval in April of minimum wage increase, a 2014 priority.
Bush: As Florida governor, revamped state educational system, cut taxes, managed state through hurricanes.
Christie: Won November 2013 re-election, becoming first Republican to earn more than 50 percent of New Jersey vote in quarter-century. Led state's response to Superstorm Sandy. Agreed to expand state's Medicaid program under the new health law while some other Republican governors have refused to do so. Vetoed a bill that would have sanctioned gay marriage, but declined to appeal a court ruling that legalized it.
Cruz: Leading force in dispute that partly shut the government, 21-hour Senate speech against Obama's health law. Argued before U.S. Supreme Court nine times, with eight of those coming while he was Texas' longest-serving solicitor general, between 2003 and 2008.
Jindal: Privatized much of Louisiana's Medicaid program, shrank public hospital system, signed statewide voucher program that covers private school tuition for certain students. Signed abortion restrictions, fought liberalization of adoption law, making it impossible for gay couples to adopt jointly. Hurricane and Gulf oil spill disaster response.
Paul: One-man, nearly 13-hour Senate filibuster to protest drone policy put him at forefront of civil liberties debate.
Perry: "Texas Miracle" job-creation boom has seen state create a third of the net new jobs nationwide over last decade, although Texas has disproportionately high percentage of hourly workers earning minimum wage or less. Helped muscle through new abortion restrictions.
Rubio: Broker of Senate immigration overhaul, though he's gone quiet on the issue. Early leader of effort to link financing of health care law to government shutdown. Working with anti-abortion groups on Senate version of bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Ryan: Negotiated December 2013 bipartisan budget deal that scaled back across-the-board spending cuts, drawing contrast with potential rivals who opposed it. Budget-hawk record to be judged on. Emerging as influential moderate on immigration.
Santorum: Making Christian-themed, family-friendly movies at the moment; record from Senate days.
Walker: Curbs on public service unions became national flashpoint, but he won the effort -- and the recall election that followed.
TAKE A NATIONAL STAND: Effective state governance is nice but leaders must build national stature on issues of the day.
Biden: Eclectic. Guns, violence against women, gay rights, veterans.
Clinton: Eclectic. 2013 speeches focused on the economy, housing, opportunities for women, voting rights.
Cuomo: Environmentalists nationally and the energy industry are closely watching his pending decision whether to allow fracking in upstate New York counties near the Pennsylvania line.
O'Malley: The liberal checklist: more spending on education, infrastructure, transportation; supports same-sex marriage, immigration reform, repealing death penalty, pushes environmental protections.
Bush: Unapologetic proponent of Common Core education standards and immigration changes opposed by many in GOP.
Christie: Moderate on the reach and functions of government; bipartisanship.
Cruz: Anti-Obama's health care law, pushes broader tea party agenda.
Jindal: A record of privatization to show he means government should be trimmed, happy to carry a social conservative banner.
Paul: Tea-party plus, with a libertarian streak that places him to the left of rivals on some issues, to the right on others. Fiscal conservative, criticizes surveillance state. Says GOP should back off on pushing state voter ID laws offensive to blacks. Health law scold. Joining in 2014 with liberal lawmakers and others in effort to roll back some mandatory minimum sentences and give judges more flexibility in fitting punishment to crime.
Perry: Prominent voice on conservative issues since before the birth of the tea party. Wants to ban all abortion in Texas, relax environmental regulations, boost states' rights; opposes gay marriage.
Rubio: Proposes higher retirement age for Social Security benefits for younger workers and restraints on benefit increases to the wealthy. 2014 initiative on poverty calls for federal wage supplements for some low-wage workers instead of earned income tax credit. Economy, abortion, tea party fiscal conservatism; immigration liberalization if he decides to get back to it. Another voice against health care law. Has become a leading GOP voice in foreign policy, pressing for stronger U.S. action in geopolitical hot spots. On climate change: "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it."
Ryan: Cutting spending, taking on entitlements, rolling back Obama's health law. Anti-poverty initiative this year.
Santorum: Social conservative activism goes way back. Focus on blue-collar economic opportunity. Speaking against libertarian streak in GOP, a "strain of conservatism that has no basis in conservatism." Book calls climate change "hyped-up crisis."
Walker: Fiscal stewardship, from a GOP point of view. Tough guy against the unions and liberal defenders of the status quo. Says GOP in Congress is the party of no.
BAGGAGE TO CHECK: It's never too early to deal with skeletons in the closet; rivals will be rattling them soon enough.
Biden: Flubs, fibs, age. Deflection: "I am who I am." Saddled by Obama's low approval ratings.
Clinton: Age, Benghazi, and the politics of being a Clinton. Republicans are already raising questions -- if not innuendo -- about her health. GOP strategist Karl Rove suggested she may have suffered health problems more serious than acknowledged in her concussion and hospitalization in 2012, bringing rebukes from her husband and advisers. GOP wants to pin blame on her for vulnerability of U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that came under deadly attack in 2012. In long-confidential documents from Bill Clinton's administration, advisers urged her to "be real" and "humanize" herself, revealing concerns about her authenticity as a public figure.
Cuomo: New York economy is dragging, his poll numbers have sunk, went through public and bitter divorce with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of late Sen. Robert Kennedy, in 2005.
O'Malley: State-run health insurance exchange website was an expensive bust, prompting officials to make an embarrassing switch in April to one based on Connecticut's. Contraband- and drug-smuggling scheme at state-run Baltimore City Detention Center that resulted in 44 people being indicted has state lawmakers looking to make reforms. Has record of raising taxes that could be challenged by less liberal Democrats, never mind Republicans.
Bush: The Bush factor. Does the country want a Bush dynasty after presidents George H. W. and George W.? Courting trouble with the right with positions on education and remarks in April that people who cross into the U.S. illegally are doing so as an "act of love" for their families.
Christie: If you have to declare "I am not a bully," you've got a problem. Apologized in January 2014 for highway lane closures apparently ordered by his aides as retribution against a mayor who did not endorse him for re-election. Also fired his deputy chief of staff and denied knowledge of the machinations. Episode deepened questions about what Christie, or those around him, will do to win, and contributed to a significant drop in his poll standings. Investigations continue.
Cruz: Reputation as a hotheaded upstart, also part of his appeal. Polarizing within his party. Also comes with birther baggage: Questions have been raised in some quarters about his constitutional standing to become president because of his birth in Canada, to a Cuban father and American mother. Deflection: Promised last summer to renounce Canadian citizenship but hasn't.
Jindal: Ambitious plan to replace state's personal and corporate taxes with higher sales taxes flopped, delivered dud of a speech when given juicy platform of responding to Obama's first presidential address to Congress in 2009. Deflection: Poking fun at himself. Jindal administration's award of a $200 million Medicaid contract is under investigation by state and federal grand juries.
Paul: Dear old dad: Must move beyond Ron Paul's fringe reputation. Bridge-burning in Congress endears him to tea party, could bite him otherwise. Deflection: GOP outreach to minorities. The Washington Times canceled his column after he was found to have used passages from other people in his speeches and writings as if they were his own. Deflection: Promising proper citations and footnotes for his pronouncements "if it will make people leave me the hell alone."
Perry: "Oops!" Memories of his stumbling 2012 campaign, a quick progression from a front-runner to flameout. Deflection: Owns up to his "botched efforts" in last campaign. Also a potential drag: a grand jury investigation in Austin into whether he abused power by cutting off state financing for an office of public corruption prosecutors led by a Democrat who refused to resign after being convicted of drunken driving.
Rubio: Rift with tea party constituency on immigration, "a real trial for me." Deflection: Go aggressive on a matter of common ground, which he did in pledging to take apart the health law. And stop talking about immigration. Response to Obama's 2013 State of the Union speech was remembered only for his clumsy reach for water. Deflection: Made fun of himself.
Ryan: Budget axe cuts both ways -- catnip to conservatives but people want their Medicare. Carries stigma of 2012 election loss as running mate. Tea party not happy with his late 2013 budget deal. Comments in March about cultural "tailspin" in inner cities struck some as veiled racism. Deflection: Called his remark "inarticulate."
Santorum: Overshadowed by newer conservative figures. Deflection: Being overshadowed means being an underdog, and he can thrive at that. Feisty 2012 campaign became the biggest threat to Romney's march to the nomination. New book contains provocative passages for future rivals to dredge up.
Walker: Some things that give him huge appeal with GOP conservatives -- taking on unions, most notably -- would whip up Democratic critics in general election. Wisconsin has lagged in job creation. Release of emails in February shed light on criminal investigation into whether Walker's aides were illegally doing campaign work for the 2010 governor's election while being paid as county employees. Walker, then a county executive, wasn't charged but the episode has proved a distraction.
RUN SHADOW CAMPAIGN: One way to run without running is to have a political action committee to promote ideas or other candidates for office, or to hire advisers who can switch to a campaign when the time comes.
Biden: Constrained by his current job, but tapped longtime adviser and former lobbyist Steve Ricchetti to be his new chief of staff; maintains close contact with political advisers past and present.
Clinton: Ready for Hillary super PAC set up by supporters is laying groundwork, so are others. Several old Clinton hands are advising the group, including Craig T. Smith and Harold Ickes.
Cuomo: Overshadowed by Clinton's shadow campaign. Considered a likely contender if Clinton ends up not running.
O'Malley: Set up a PAC called O'Say Can You See and hired two people for fundraising and communications.
Bush: He's a Bush, so he's got connections. Sally Bradshaw, chief of staff when he was governor, is his go-to political person.
Christie: Republican Governors Association chairmanship allows him to grow his national profile with voters and party officials with regular travel and key appearances. Began building broad coalition of donors through his national fundraising tour in spring 2013. But the shadow of the traffic scandal still hangs over his shadow campaign.
Cruz: Has leadership PAC, Jobs Growth and Economic Freedom. Has been one of the largest beneficiaries of Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund and has gotten millions of dollars and grassroots logistical support from the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Ending Spending PAC. Heritage Action PAC helped sponsor Cruz's summer anti-health-law trip around Texas and country.
Jindal: Created Washington-based nonprofit, America Next, in October 2013 to push policy ideas nationally. For executive director, tapped Jill Neunaber, who worked on Romney's presidential campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. In March created PAC to help conservative candidates.
Paul: Has formidable leadership PAC called Rand PAC, has maintained ties to father's political network in early primary states and benefits from strong tea party support. Is starting to build teams on the ground in most states.
Perry: Created Americans for Economic Freedom PAC in fall 2013 to raise his profile again, help him test the waters and broadcast ads promoting Republican leadership around the country. Group used more than $200,000 left over from the PAC that raised millions for his 2012 campaign.
Rubio: Beginning more aggressive travel to early voting states; has lagged potential rivals on that front. Ramping up in other ways, too: Shuffled his staff and directed political resources of his Reclaim America PAC to three big Senate midterm races this year, one of them the GOP primary in Iowa.
Ryan: His Prosperity Action PAC. Questions remain about whether he will make a presidential bid given his rising influence in Congress.
Santorum: Keeps in touch with chief supporters of his winning 2012 Iowa caucus campaign, giving him a leg up on a campaign organization in that state.
Walker: Consults with top Republican governor strategists such as Phil Musser and Nick Ayers.
GET WITH IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A must for spreading ideas, poking competitors, raising money, organizing events and showing a personal side, though often a very canned version.
Biden: Launched Instagram account in April. Not active on Facebook, occasional contributor to his office's vigorous Twitter account.
Clinton: About 1.4 million followers on Twitter, her preferred social media outlet. Tweets photos of her posing with Republican Sen. John McCain, members of the Russian feminist protest group Pussy Riot, more. Tweets that grandmother-to-be is "my most exciting title yet!"
Cuomo: Few if any personal tweets; Facebook also generated primarily by staff.
O'Malley: On Twitter, standard governor's fare but promotes rare appearances by his Celtic rock band, O'Malley's March, for which he sings and plays guitar, banjo and tin whistle. On Facebook, his PAC-generated page is more active than official governor's account.
Bush: Tweets and posts many Wall Street Journal stories, education thoughts and some Bush family doings.
Christie: More engaged in Twitter ("It was great to be able to visit with the owners of Rossi's Rent-A-Rama in Ortley today.") than Facebook.
Cruz: Active on Facebook and Twitter, much content is pumped out by staff.
Jindal: Active on Twitter and on Facebook, where he lists among favorite books, "John Henry Newman: A Biography," about recently canonized British cardinal and sage. Also favors James Bond movies.
Paul: Aggressive. Bragged on Twitter in June that he'd attracted more than 1 million likes for his Facebook page, where he lists his own books as his favorites.
Perry: Active. One popular tweet was accidental -- from his pocket, he said -- and consisted of "I." Followers jumped in to complete his sentence. One offered: "I ... really like Obamacare." (He doesn't.) Facebook appears staff-generated.
Rubio: Aggressive, with large followings, appears to make personal use of Twitter more than staff-generated Facebook. Takes lots of shots at the health law. On Facebook, lists "Pulp Fiction" movie and "The Tudors" historical fiction TV series among favorites.
Ryan: King of Facebook among potential rivals in both parties, with nearly 4.9 million likes. Seeks $10 donations for "Team Ryan" bumper stickers for his PAC and kisses a fish. Posts photo of Obama with his feet up on Oval Office desk. Commanding presence on Twitter, too, via an account associated with his PAC and another as congressman.
Santorum: Active on Twitter and Facebook.
Walker: Posts vigorously on Facebook and on his Twitter accounts. Many exclamation points. "Glad USDA is keeping cranberries on school menus. I drink several bottles of cranberry juice each day!" And, "Green Bay Packers signing Julius Peppers to a 3-year deal is HUGE!" Promotes policy achievements and his TV appearances, reflects on sports, pokes Obama.