So Far The 2016 Campaign Is More Like The 2016 Un-campaign For all the presidential aspirants, just three have launched exploratory committees. The others are jumping through hoops to make clear that they're just thinking about the possibility of running.

So Far The 2016 Campaign Is More Like The 2016 Un-campaign

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You may have noticed that there's something surreal about the 2016 presidential campaign. Yes, it started really early and the hopefuls are raising a lot of money. But that's not so unusual. What's weird is that almost all of those running insist they're not really candidates. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: What's accurate is that they haven't officially announced - doing that would cripple their fundraising, so they're bypassing long-established rules for exploratory committees. And here's where the weirdness comes in. Talking and acting like a candidate will make you a candidate, legally speaking. With that come tougher restrictions on fundraising. So the not-yet candidates are perfecting their verbal gymnastics.

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CARLY FIORINA: Well, if I do it - and I haven't made a final decision yet, although I'm getting a lot closer, I must say - I'm doing it because I think our nation really is at a pivotal point.

OVERBY: That's Republican Carly Fiorina walking the line on Fox News. Here's Jeb Bush, who may qualify for most qualifiers, speaking at an Iowa rally last weekend.

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JEB BUSH: If I go beyond the consideration of this, my hope is that we will - I will run a campaign, if I get there, that will be hopeful and optimistic, that I'm not going to tear down my fellow Republicans. That doesn't help.

OVERBY: And Rick Santorum framing the issue with something other than fundraising.

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RICK SANTORUM: Every time I remember in the last campaign - well, not that we're in a campaign, but the last campaign...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Why not?

SANTORUM: I would go to - I'm just clarifying. The FEC is watching. Just so you know this.

OVERBY: Well, maybe - but recent history of the Federal Election Commission suggests not. Anyway, it's wrong to say that all White House hopefuls are doing this. Republicans Ben Carson and Senator Lindsey Graham have launched exploratory committees. Democrat Jim Webb set up his committee last fall, nearly two weeks after the midterms.

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JIM WEBB: As I consider this effort, I'm asking that you support the exploratory committee with a donation, and that you encourage other like-minded Americans to do the same.

OVERBY: Of course, it's another Democrat, Hillary Clinton, who's the most experienced not-yet candidate. She uses a stock answer.

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HILLARY CLINTON: Now, I'm obviously thinking about all kinds of decisions.

(LAUGHTER)

OVERBY: Or as Kate McKinnon put it on Saturday Night Live last weekend.

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KATE MCKINNON: I will ascend to the high office of president and claim my rightful place in history - if I choose to run.

OVERBY: Jessica Levinson is genuinely not running for president.

JESSICA LEVINSON: It is absurd. Everyone knows exactly what's happening.

OVERBY: Levinson teaches campaign finance law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She says she's dismayed that politicians are going for the White House while saying they're not.

LEVINSON: Everybody knows that Hillary Clinton's running for president, that Jeb Bush is running for president.

OVERBY: The un-candidates should start owning up pretty soon. Word is that Clinton, Bush and maybe others could declare their intentions next month. Meanwhile, Levinson says, the reality is so far from the law.

LEVINSON: It feels like walking into Alice in Wonderland.

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JERRY COLONNA: (As March Hare) My dear child, this is not a birthday party.

ED WYNN: (As Mad Hatter) Of course not. This is an un-birthday party.

KATHRYN BEAUMONT: (As Alice) Un-birthday? I'm sorry, but I don't quite understand.

OVERBY: And if Lewis Carroll could have looked ahead to 2015, he would have seen the un-campaign. Peter Overby, NPR News Washington.

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