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Hillary hype poses risks for a potential 2016 candidacy

Hillary Clinton speaks during the 2013 America Bar Association annual meeting on Aug. 12, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton's lofty status as the apparent 2016 Democratic nominee-in-waiting has some allies concerned that the hype might be too much, too soon.

This seeming inevitability makes her more sensitive to attacks and risks amplifying any stumble, no matter how minor. And voters may react poorly to a candidate who appears to be waltzing to the nomination with minimal effort.

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“I think people close to her are more acutely aware than anybody else in the country that there's no such thing as inevitability,” said a Democrat with ties to Clinton, who requested anonymity to speak more freely about her political calculus.

“The expectations are just so out of whack,” the Democrat added, noting the results of her 2008 candidacy. “If her opponent gets 30 to 40 percent in Iowa – the first time she has to break a sweat, the media will write, 'Is this The Collapse, Part II?'”

Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, a Democratic women’s group that was recently in Iowa to promote female candidates for president – not just Clinton – said the former New York senator should be ready for a fight.

“One thing I know about campaigns is they don't really get going until a candidate gets in. If she chooses to do this, I think she'll be in an incredible place to do very well,” Schriock said. “But campaigns are also about ideas and a lot of candidates get in and debating each other.”

But unlike 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama emerged, few current Democrats – even Vice President Joe Biden – seem to pose a credible threat to Clinton at this stage in the game.

“I think one of the big differences between 2008 and now is that, back then, you had a rock star of similar caliber in the running, Sen. Obama,” said Phil Singer, an aide to Clinton during that campaign. “Inevitability wasn't necessarily as credible as it is today.”

Republicans, almost gleefully, have added to this sense of inevitability ... despite the fact that any potential candidacy is still years away.

The volume of their attacks on possible Democratic contenders for the nomination – including Biden, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – have paled in comparison to their focus on Clinton.

The conservative super PAC “America Rising” his diligently hammered away at Clinton, launching a “Stop Hillary” campaign that implicitly seems to acknowledge that Clinton is the Democrat whom Republicans will likely face in the 2016 general election.

And the Republican National Committee has taken the unusual step of voting to prevent NBC News and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates unless NBC Entertainment (which is separate from NBC News) and CNN’s documentary divisions cease planned biographical movies about the former first lady.

Those early attacks on Clinton are part of the motivation for EMILY’s List’s “Madam President” campaign.

“Our biggest challenge we have is a Republican Party that's been out of power for eight years,” Schriock said. “They're going to do everything they can to attack her and tear her down, because they want the White House back.”

Still, the shadow that Clinton casts over the Democratic field provides tremendous advantages as well.

Clinton appears even more irresistible to Democrats today than she did eight years ago, when she was mulling her first bid for the White House.

And as she's become the overwhelming Democratic favorite in early polls to succeed President Barack Obama, groups like “Ready for Hillary” have emerged to collect endorsements and lay the groundwork for a prospective candidacy.

Given her current clout, Clinton could project enough political strength to dissuade other Democrats from mounting serious challenges against her (should she chose to run). Though, the Democratic strategist with ties to Clinton still urges caution. “If I was advising her, I'd tell her to prepare for a challenger – multiple ones.”

Moreover, the intense interest in Clinton means that she will win extensive media coverage, which she can in turn use to begin to outline the rationale behind her possible candidacy.

Clinton said she would deliver a series of other policy speeches in the coming months as well. And New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s hint that he knew what role his wife, Huma Abedin, would play in a 2016 campaign prompted considerable chatter in the political class.

Additionally, Clinton plans to focus on policy issues with her family foundation, work which her allies believe will be just as instructive about her 2016 intentions.

“While she's still going to be viewed through the lens of being a presumptive candidate, she can make news independently of being a prospective candidate,” Singer said.