By Brian Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - New York Sen. Chuck Schumer traveled to Iowa on Saturday to announce his endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.
Schumer was invited as the keynote speaker of the Iowa Democrats' annual Jefferson Jackson dinner attended by 750 people at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.
The prestigious invitation came during an off year in the presidential election cycle.
In November of 2007 - two months ahead of the Iowa presidential caucuses - the same dinner drew 9,000 people.
That dinner offered a look at a crowded field of presidential hopefuls that included then-senator Clinton, then-senator Barack Obama of Illinois, then-senator Joe Biden of Delaware, former North Carolina senator John Edwards, then-senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and then-governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
Schumer joked Saturday that the only time he ran for the presidency was in junior high in Brooklyn, when he lost to a girl.
"When I lost to her I said then as I say now: It's time for a woman to be president,'' Schumer said. "That's why I am urging Hillary Clinton to run for president and, when she does, she will have my full and unwavering support.''
Schumer's early announcement three years ahead of the 2016 election - and before Clinton even has even indicated her intentions - is a departure from the approach he took in 2007. That time he waited until after Clinton had officially declared her candidacy.
His early backing of his former Senate colleague adds to the early chorus prominent Democrats who are uniting behind the possibility of avoiding a fractious and extended primary battle in the next presidential election.
The 16 female Democrats in the Senate all signed a private letter sent to Clinton earlier this year encouraging her to run, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina publicly disclosed Monday at an event hosted by Emily's List in Manhattan.
It's a significant group.
The signers not only include New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been a longtime supporter of Clinton, but also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has also been mentioned as a candidate.
Other signatories include Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, whose home state governor - Martin O'Malley - has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
With Gillbrand and Schumer backing Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's likelihood of considering a 2016 presidential candidacy is further diminished.
Meanwhile, the Ready for Hillary political action committee already has raised more than $1.2 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
For Clinton, who was the early frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007, her frontrunner status this presidential cycle has an important difference. The effort to make her appear as the Democratic Party's inevitable choice for the 2008 presidential nomination was hyped by her campaign.
This time the steadily building sense of inevitability of her electability for the 2016 cycle is coming from outside the Clinton inner circle.