Nine Questions for Hillary Clinton In 2015

She'll need to formulate her campaign's message, tap a trusted team of advisers, and take sides on polarizing issues.

There's been buzz for months over Hillary Clinton's expected presidential campaign, but she's not expected to make a formal announcement until the first few months of 2015. That leaves a vacuum for political reporters, opposition researchers, and Clinton-watchers alike to discuss her strategy, message, and timing for announcing.

How and when Clinton launches her campaign—and who's involved when she does—will set the tone for not only the Democratic primary in 2016, but also the general election. Will she run a campaign centered around the historic idea of being the first female president? Will she cater to the party's centrists or the progressive base? Will she bring in longtime loyalists, or tap unfamiliar advisers into her orbit? These are all pivotal questions as we head into 2015.

While it's by no means certain that Clinton will definitely announce she's running for president, most Democrats expect her to launch a campaign within the first few months of the year.

With that in mind, here's National Journal's list of nine top questions for Clinton in 2015.

1. When will she announce?

While several leading Democratic strategists advised that Clinton waste no time before launching her campaign, she's content to take her time to formally announce. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe suggested that she announce early to get ahead of her critics on the Republican side, many of whom are already sniping at her. But the holidays have come and gone with no announcement from Clinton, and her speaking schedule—which includes an event as late as March 19—suggests she's looking at a later spring announcement.

That said, speeches can be canceled, and if the timeline for other candidates begins to shift—on the Republican side, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's December announcement that he's "actively" moving toward a campaign surprised observers, and could affect Clinton's timing as well.

2. Will there be an exploratory committee first, or will Clinton just announce a campaign?

Lately, presidential candidates have preceded their official launch by announcing an exploratory committee—a vehicle that allows candidates to begin raising money ahead of a formal campaign announcement. But will Clinton launch one or just go straight to the official campaign? As one strategist put it to The Washington Post earlier this month, "At this point, what would she be exploring?" Several of her allies told The Post that she might opt to skip the exploratory committee this time around for fear it would look too coy for someone who's run before and clearly has been weighing this decision for a long time.

In 2007, Clinton announced her exploratory committee in January; this time, however, with a later announcement date likely—and the super PAC Ready for Hillary doing early organizing work on her behalf—she could feasibly go straight into full-on campaign mode.

3. Who will be her campaign manager?

If she runs, deciding on a campaign manager will be one of the first major strategic decisions Clinton will make. That person will set the tone for the campaign, from the overall message and themes to staffing and hiring decisions.  One of the leading contenders, former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Guy Cecil, announced that he wasn't going to be managing Clinton's campaign in a statement released Sunday.

As of now, the name that comes up most frequently in Democratic circles is Robby Mook, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer who ran Terry McAuliffe's 2013 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. He has been helping Clinton out with "special projects," according to Bloomberg, and advised her during the midterms. Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List who managed and won tough campaigns for Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Al Franken, is also mentioned as a contender for the top position.

4. When does she stop giving paid speeches?

Clinton has filled much of her time since leaving the State Department by giving a steady stream of paid speeches, many of which bring her six-figure speaker's fees. While it's certainly good for the Clintons' bank accounts, her time on the speaking circuit has already become the subject of numerous GOP attacks.

Presumably, Clinton will cease to give paid speeches as soon as she becomes a candidate—but how long will the gap be between her last paid speech and her first speech as a candidate? As of now, Clinton has two speeches scheduled in Canada on Jan. 21, one in the San Francisco Bay Area on Feb. 24, and another in Atlantic City, N.J., on March 19.

5. How is Ready for Hillary integrated into the eventual campaign apparatus?

The super PAC that launched with just a handful of staffers in 2013 has become a formidable organization in its own right; it boasts Obama alums Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird as top advisers, and has collected more than 3 million names that will be the linchpin of Clinton's grassroots organization.

The expectation for Ready for Hillary is that it will wind down as soon as Clinton announces her decision, with a Clinton campaign buying, leasing, or doing a data swap with Ready for Hillary for its list of supporters and voters. There's also the possibility that some of the group's advisers will be absorbed into a Clinton campaign. That's sure to be an issue Republicans jump on quickly, with a possible Federal Election Commission complaint whenever the sale or lease goes through.

6. What's the campaign message?

In the wake of Democrats' massive midterm losses in November, there's been much discussion about what the party's overall message should be heading into 2016. Will Clinton focus, as she didn't in 2008, on the historic nature of becoming the first female president? Will she incorporate the progressive focus on income inequality and criticism of Wall Street into her overall message? And what part of her own biography does she focus on—her time at the State Department, her tenure in the Senate, or her experience in her husband's administration during the 1990s? All of these are open questions, and will provide a great deal of insight into the type of campaign Clinton intends to run.

7. Does she do anything to reach out to progressives?

As the past few weeks have shown, progressive activists are pining for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to run for president. Warren is able to channel the excitement and issues of the Democratic Left far better than any other political figure—and her focus on economic populism, fighting back against Wall Street, and tackling income equality have resonated strongly with voters. Even if Warren doesn't run, progressive groups expect her to have significant sway over the Democratic Party's message for 2016.

So how does Clinton handle the progressive wing of her party? Whether she does acknowledges the role Warren's policies could play in her overall campaign message, or reaches out to progressive leaders, will say a lot about the overall direction of Clinton's campaign and the kind of coalition she's hoping to build.

8. How will she address politically sensitive policy questions?

Since she left the State Department, Clinton has spoken out on several key issues, most notably her support for same-sex marriage in early 2013 and her backing of normalizing relations with Cuba. But on other politically sensitive subjects, she's been more comfortable hedging. What does Clinton think about the Keystone XL pipeline, for example? Does she support re-implementing tougher sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal isn't reached? Where does she stand on net neutrality?

As a candidate, Clinton will be relentlessly bombarded for her precise views on a whole host of issues. Whether she ties her fortunes to President Obama, or opts for a more independent path will be a telling sign of her 2016 campaign message.

9. How does she deal with other Democrats in the race?

While it's still unclear who could make up the rest of the Democratic field—former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has announced an exploratory committee, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have expressed serious interest in running—it's pretty likely that Clinton will have at least one primary opponent. How will she relate to them? As the clear front-runner, she could ignore the other candidates in the race, to project power and inevitability.

Because she would start the race in stronger position than in 2008, will she decide to spend significant time campaigning in small-state caucuses, to ensure she's not surprised by one of the long-shot insurgents? Should she be worried (again) about Iowa, a state where she finished a disappointing third in 2008, and one her husband hardly competed for as a presidential candidate?