It's never too early to talk 2016.
Democrats may be launching President Obama's re-election push in Charlotte, N.C., but behind the scenes Charlotte also signals the unofficial kickoff of the 2016 presidential primary, with delegates from key primary states getting wined and dined by potential candidates testing the very early waters.
This week's festivities offered potential Democratic presidential candidates a chance for some coveted face time and schmoozing with activists from important early primary states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, who are attending the Democratic convention as delegates and alternates.
Relationships are everything in these early primary states.
The Iowa delegation was perhaps the belle of the ball by 2016 standards, getting plenty of attention by Democratic up-and-comers eyeing a run.
Iowa's delegation heard from such high-profile Democrats as Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, who's also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association; Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J.; and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, who all spoke at delegation gatherings. All three could conceivably vie for the party's presidential nomination in four years.
"These are the activists who are here as delegates, and it's a way to sort of test the water," said Peggy Whitworth, a delegate from Cedar Rapids. "I don't think these people are necessarily running, just getting a feel for the thing."
"Cory Booker was very passionate. He connected with them, because he shared personal stories," said LaNore Guillory, a delegate from Clinton. "The mayor of Los Angeles was more cautious. He was very well-spoken."
Charlotte also offers states like Iowa the chance to remind presidential aspirants of their importance as early states. With limited time to offer, Iowa invited a roster of big names to address its delegation. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who spoke at the Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday night, was invited but did not attend. Patrick spoke to party activists at their Hall of Fame Dinner and state convention June 15 and 16. Villaraigosa, for his part, will address the state party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner Oct. 20.
New Hampshire also heard from Booker, who spoke to the delegation over breakfast, Thursday morning. Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana spoke at the same event. The delegation also heard from Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"New Hampshire has been doing phenomenal job of vetting potential presidential candidates for the last half century," Torie Norelli, the Democratic leader of the New Hampshire House said. "We ask the tough questions and will for 2016."
Norelli said she found many of the potential 2016 candidates who came to speak with the delegation on the sidelines were inspirational.
"Some may decide to run, and some may not," she said.
"Clearly, it's a chance to meet people and make contacts and give speeches," Gary Richardson, a delegate from Concord, N.H., said. "Great speakers, great inspiration.
Asked if any of the speakers he heard from this week stood out as an early leaders of the potential 2016 pack, Richardson mentioned Booker and Schweitzer but would not pick one.
"There's so many choices," he said, smiling. "I wouldn't pick one."