Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's poll numbers continue to fall over the email scandal, leading wary party supporters to cast about for a possible white knight if the plunge continues.
"You have Democrats beginning to panic about the one thing that a lot of them never worried about, which was Clinton's electability in the general election," Robert Shrum, a longtime strategist, told The New York Times
. "You still have to think of her as the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination.
"But the challenge she faces in the general election is both the trust problem and the likability problem," Shrum said.
Besides Vice President Joe Biden, other names being bandied about are Sec. of State John Kerry, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Vice President Al Gore.
"Biden and Kerry are the kind of highly respected, well-known figures that, if he were to jump in the race during the primaries in an emergency kind of way, they could attract a lot of voters very quickly," Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told the Times.
Supporters are also nervous because of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is attracting huge crowds at campaign events.
With the possibility of Sanders leading the Democratic ticket next year, Democratic officials fear a GOP rout. Sanders is a socialist and is considered too liberal, according to the report.
"If party leaders see a scenario next winter where Bernie Sanders has a real chance at the Democratic nomination, I think there's no question that leaders will reach out to Vice President Biden or Sec. of State Kerry or even Gore about entering the primaries," Garnet Coleman, a Texas state lawmaker and Democratic national committeeman, told the Times.
Some strategists, however, are suggesting that Biden might be planning an "11th-hour rescue mission during the winter primaries" if Clinton's numbers do not improve.
But Biden said that he was not certain whether he and his family had the "emotional energy" for another campaign.
In addition, some of Kerry's friends have told the Times that he would "hear out" party leaders if it appeared likely that Sanders would capture the nomination.
"He has strengths: He knows the country," John Sasso, a longtime Democratic supporter, told the Times. He is a friend of Kerry who served as a senior adviser to his 2004 campaign.
"He has world stature. He has handled the job of secretary of state extremely well. He beat George Bush in three debates. He prepared Obama for three debates.
"I have no indication Sec. Kerry would ever run again, but I don't think anyone else has more experience in preparing and running for the presidency than Kerry," Sasso said.
For his part, Kerry said recently that he had no plans to seek the White House again, but in February he said that "nobody ever says never."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Gore declined to comment to the Times, while Warren has emphasized repeatedly that she would not seek the presidency.
Clinton supporters remain confident that she will overcome the current pitfalls of her campaign and emerge as the Democratic nominee.
"The media notwithstanding, I think Hillary is in very strong shape," Jerry Crawford, an influential Iowa Democratic supporter. "She's going to win Iowa and then the nomination and the presidency.
"Democrats who are ornery and cantankerous as a rule are inclined to say they are for Sanders right now," Crawford added. "But when it comes time for them to decide who can win the general election, they will vote for Hillary."
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