Where county Democratic chairmen stand

Charleston County Chairman Richard Hricik

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Martin O'Malley

3) Joe Biden

Berkeley County Chairwoman Melissa Watson

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Joe Biden

Greenville County Chairman Eric Graben

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Joe Biden

3) Martin O'Malley

Dorchester County Chairman Richard Hayes

1) Mark Warner

2) Martin O'Malley

3) Elizabeth Warren

Lexington County Chairman Randy Herald

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Elizabeth Warren

3) Joe Biden and Martin O'Malley

York County Chairwoman Patricia Calkins

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Joe Biden

Beaufort County Chairman Blaine Lotz

1) Hillary Clinton

Horry County Chairwoman Doris Hickman

1) Hillary Clinton

2) Hillary Clinton

3) Hillary Clinton

Anderson County Chair Stuart Sprague

1) Hillary Clinton

Ask key South Carolina Democrats who their top three favorites are in their party's 2016 presidential race, and many echo Horry County Democratic Chairwoman Doris Hickman.

"Hillary, Hillary, Hillary."

Unlike the state's Republicans, who are mulling over a multitude of presidential possibilities, state Democratic leaders say their contest won't really begin until Hillary Clinton - who has been a first lady, a U.S. senator and a Secretary of State - decides yea or nay on her candidacy.

Charleston County Chairman Richard Hricik is among those who feel Hillary Clinton would make an excellent candidate, and that the race won't begin until she tips her hand.

"Right now it seems like it's Hillary by default," he said. "Until Hillary says publicly that she's not running, I don't think we're going to see any Democratic presidential candidates, period. If she doesn't run, you open up the field to a lot more possibilities."

The It's-Clinton's-Race-To-Lose theme rang clear after a Post and Courier survey this month with party leaders from 10 counties statewide.

Lexington County Democratic Chairman Randy Herald said he also has heard talk of Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley as possible candidates. Both have visited the state within the past year.

"I've seen a lot of interest on their part," Herald said, adding that it's too early to speculate. "I've seen guys go down in flames, and I've seen people pop up out of nowhere."

Many party leaders expressed an interest in seeing Clinton shatter the presidential gender barrier, much like President Barack Obama shattered the racial barrier in 2008.

"I kind of favor having a woman president. I think it's time for us to do that," York County Democratic Chairwoman Patricia Calkins said. "I've supported Hillary in the past, so I'll be happy to step up and support her."

Still, the sentiment for Hillary is not unanimous. Dorchester County Democratic Chairman Richard Hayes said he is worried about some of the baggage she would bring - and how that could work against local and state Democrats. He expressed interest in former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

As she left office, Clinton faced fire over her handling of the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently reminded the public of her husband's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"We know we've been here before and three years out, when someone seemed like the obvious candidate, they turned out not to be the candidate," Hayes said.

Several county party leaders resisted any talk of 2016, saying they are focused solely on helping Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Vince Sheheen win this fall in South Carolina.

But their focus began shifting to the presidential race at least a little on Thursday, when the Ready for Hillary Super PAC held a $20.16-per person fundraiser in Columbia featuring Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Bakari Sellers and other party leaders. On the eve of that event, state Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison and state GOP Chairman Matt Moore sparred about Clinton on MSNBC.

The counties surveyed were Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Spartanburg, Lexington, York, Berkeley, Dorchester, Anderson and Beaufort. Party leaders from other big Democratic counties, such as Richland and Orangeburg, didn't return repeated phone and email messages.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.