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Democrats Ready for Post-Holiday Clinton Announcement

Image: Hillary Clinton departs St. Ignatius Loyola church following fashion designer de la Renta's memorial service in the Manhattan borough of New York

Former first lady Hillary Clinton departs St. Ignatius Loyola church following fashion designer Oscar de la Renta's memorial service in the Manhattan borough of New York November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT HEADSHOT POLITICS OBITUARY) CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

Hillary Clinton is expected to announce in January that she will run for president, Democratic sources say, and the shape of that effort is becoming clear -- with a campaign operation headquartered in the New York City suburbs and a campaign message that plays up the possibility of electing the first female president much more so than in 2008.

Party sources emphasize there is still a small chance the former first lady will opt not to run, and some Democrats say there is no reason for her to begin a campaign so soon. But she is expected to begin preparation for a campaign over the next two months, while also giving speeches on some of her favorite causes, such as appearances at the Massachusetts Conference for Women and the League of Conservation Voters in December.

Democratic operatives have spent months positioning themselves for places on her campaign staff, but it’s already clear that Clinton’s team will include voices from her husband’s administration, such as former White House director of political affairs Minyon Moore, top aides from her last campaign like then-traveling chief of staff Huma Abedin and trip director Greg Hale, as well as some of her close advisers at the State Department, such as speechwriter Dan Schwerin.

A group called “Ready for Hillary,” which is officially unaligned with Clinton, is expected to fold, with some of its staff joining the official campaign operation. But the Democratic organization American Bridge, which has designated staffers for the last year to defending Clinton from conservative attacks, will remain, both to support Clinton and to critique the GOP’s presidential field.

Democratic operatives close to Clinton are also beginning to consider what is expected to be one of the top challenges for the former first lady: distancing herself from an increasingly unpopular President Obama without offending the voters, particularly African-Americans, who elected him twice. The other challenge will be casting Clinton as a candidate of the future, with Republicans repeatedly suggesting the 67-year-old is too old. Clinton advisers view white women as the group where she can out-perform Obama, but Republicans are expected to compete much more for the votes of minority voters in 2016 than they did during Obama’s campaigns.

This dynamics of this race will be much different for Clinton than in 2008. Back then, she faced a very tough primary, with the Democratic base wary of her support for the Iraq War, but she would have been a heavy favorite in the general election, which Obama won easily. Now, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite in the primary, but faces the challenge of trying to win the third straight presidential term for the Democrats.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are still strongly considering running against Clinton, but there is little sign that more powerful figures in the party, such as Vice President Biden or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, will compete if the former first lady elects to start a campaign.

"Because so many seats Democrats had won in 2008 were up this year, I don't know how much of 2014 translates to 2016. But still the country is feeling more Republican, so that makes it somewhat harder for Hillary Clinton if she runs," said Mark Alexander, an associate dean and law professor at Seton Hall who was a senior adviser on Obama's 2008 campaign. "But the Republicans still have to come up with a good candidate, and they don't yet know who that is going to be."

If her speeches on the campaign trail this fall are any hint, Clinton will not be breaking much new ground on domestic policy during her presidential run. She has embraced President Obama’s agenda, increasing the minimum wage, implementing the Affordable Care Act, expanding pre-kindergarten education, looking for policies that reduce the gap between the wealthy and the rest of America. Since she left the State Department, Clinton has hinted she would have taken a more aggressive stance in intervening abroad in nations like Syria, but it’s not clear she will make foreign policy a centerpiece of her campaign, as polls suggest most voters are much more concerned about the economy.

This fall, though, Clinton spoke frequently about narrowing the pay gap between men and women and creating mandatory paid leave for parents after their children are born, suggesting her 2016 may highlight gender and family issues more than eight years ago.