Well, some in the White House, perhaps, according to AP’s Julie Pace. During a Fox News Sunday debate over the meaning of Mitt Romney’s retirement, Pace reminded Chris Wallace that Barack Obama himself mentioned that voters wanted a “new car smell” from their presidential candidates, and that might apply even more to Democrats now that Romney has exited the GOP presidential fight. Wallace immediately seized on the point (via TWS):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBpFaVlkCj4

WALLACE: Do you think — I mean I got to pick up on this. Do you think that there are people in the White House who think Elizabeth Warren would be a better candidate for the Democrats than Hillary Clinton?

PACE: I haven’t had anyone say that to me personally, I think that they try to downplay this idea of a rift between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren that they are — they are pretty far apart, but I think that sure, for some of these people in the White House who’ve worked for the president before who really relish a great primary fight, a great political debate, that they would like to see her in there.

Yeah, I’ll bet they’re trying to downplay it. Hillary has a tough job on her hands if she runs for the 2016 Democratic nomination. First she’ll have to run to her left if she wants to keep Warren out of the fight, and even more so if Warren actually tosses her hat into the ring. Assuming at that point she wins, she’ll then need to cut back to the center and hope that Republicans pick Jeb Bush to make 2016 the Battle Of The Retreads, or that she can convince H. Ross Perot to come out of retirement.

That’s if she runs. Chris Cillizza ponders whether Hillary will run at all, and what it would mean if she doesn’t:

The question, and the back-and-forth over it, got me thinking about what would happen in the unlikely event that Hillary Rodham Clinton decided not to run. After all, she has only hinted at her interest publicly and has yet to take the steps — leadership PAC, etc. — that would indicate clear interest. Virtually everything we know about Clinton’s plans come from staff movements and quotes to reporters from “those in the know” who demand anonymity to share their knowledge. …

We are rapidly approaching the point of no return for her and Democrats. That is, if she were suddenly to decide not to run in, say, two months, there would be an overwhelming sense of doom within the party. The shock would reverberate for weeks, or maybe much longer, making it hard for anyone looking to fill the void she left behind.

Now, that doom would eventually be followed by a wild scramble among the Bidens, Martin O’Malleys and, yes, even Elizabeth Warrens of the party for the donors, activists and staffers who had been assumed to be part of the Clinton machine. But doing things in a hurry with what would be regarded widely as Democrats’ “B” or even “C” team would be deeply problematic.

Simply put, for Clinton to pass on the race — and especially if she waits until the summer to make her decision public — would be absolutely disastrous for her party’s chances of holding on to the White House in 2016. She and her budding team have to know that, and it’s hard for me to imagine that she would have let things go this far — there is an entire campaign and outside Clinton world in place for her — if she had any serious or lingering doubts about whether she was going to make the race.

Don’t take the lack of a campaign PAC or committee as a signal. Hillary gets plenty of mileage out of the Clinton Foundation, which has been used to keep Hillary on the stump while avoiding the necessities of FEC compliance. It may not yet be the point of no return for Democrats, either; just because the GOP is starting early doesn’t mean that Democrats have to do the same. It’s not a bad strategy to lay low for a while and let the Republicans take all of the media scrutiny.

The problem for Democrats isn’t so much timing as legitimate options. They have none. Cillizza puts together a list of seven not-Hillarys that might work for 2016, and two of them are socialist Bernie Sanders and 76-year-old Jerry Brown. Joe Biden is by far the most accomplished Democrat on the list, and he hardly can claim a “new car smell.” Other than that, we have Warren followed by Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley — not exactly the Charisma Trio. There is only one and half Senate terms when Warren and Webb are put together, and O’Malley just allowed Maryland to flip to the GOP thanks to his poor performance as governor.

Hillary’s running because Democrats have nowhere else to go. The White House may want a Clinton-Warren battle for a different purpose: a progressive in-fight will produce a lot less criticism of the Obama presidency.