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Potential 2016 hopefuls test the waters in key states

The early presidential states are getting a lot of early attention. Possible 2016 candidates will be dropping in on Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina throughout the month of May, beginning with two high-profile visits to the Palmetto state Friday night. Vice President Joe Biden is speaking at the South Carolina Democrats' Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Columbia. And just down the road, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will address the state's Republicans at their Silver Elephant celebration. Cruz will pay tribute to former senator and Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint.

Biden and Cruz have both demurred when asked about their 2016 prospects, but their speeches tonight will do nothing to tamp down the speculation. In fact, visits to early states for party fundraisers are an easy way for politicians to test the presidential waters without having to declare their intentions. They are visiting for the good of the party, to honor a former officeholder, or to buck up a local candidate. In Biden's case, South Carolina Democrats are hoping his visit will spark further enthusiasm for next week's congressional special election.

"Democrats are really excited about the first district election," South Carolina Democratic Party communications director Kristin Sosanie says of next Tuesday's election featuring former Republican Congressman Mark Sanford and Democratic businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch. "Having the vice president in town to gin up excitement is something that will certainly help."

If a potential candidate can help with local party business, that is something that is not likely to be forgotten. Indeed, these visits are for building relationships and contacts - people a declared presidential candidate can count on later when they are building their campaign organization.

"You can build a structure, you can build a network, and some of those relationships," South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly says. "I do think relationships matter. Let's face it: Newt Gingrich won here [in 2012] because he came here a bunch of times and he had a network."

In the next several weeks, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., also will make pilgrimages to early voting states. Just this week, the Detroit Regional Chamber announced former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., will deliver the keynote address at this month's Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan. You can bet we'll see more early state visit announcements in the near future.

Now here's what else the 2016 contenders have been up to this week:

Hillary Clinton: Clinton continued making the rounds on the speaker's circuit this week, including at the Atlantic Council Leadership Awards in Washington. At the event, fellow former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger joked that Clinton should look to the four Secretaries of State who went on to become president if she needed inspiration.

Andrew Cuomo: Reports surfaced this week that the New York Governor was telling associates he would not run for president if Hillary Clinton did. But Cuomo refuted those claims in a radio interview: "There is no truth to the assertion that I'm talking presidential politics and strategy and what Hillary Clinton should do or shouldn't do or what I'm doing presidentially." The publisher HarperCollins also announced this week that Cuomo would write a memoir.

Martin O'Malley: On Thursday, the Maryland governor signed a law abolishing the death penalty in his state. It was one of his main achievements during Maryland's just-wrapped legislative session.

Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator might not have been in South Carolina this week, but he did take the time to endorse Mark Sanford in the state's first congressional district special election. And the South Carolina Republican party announced Paul would visit the state at the end of June.

Chris Christie: Christie's reelection campaign launched its first ad of the cycle this week. Called "Jersey Proud," the one-minute ad touts Christie's record in the Garden State, including his response to Hurricane Sandy. The Clinton Global Initiative also announced this week that Christie will address the annual CGI America conference in June in Chicago.

Rick Perry: Along with Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the Texas governor addressed the NRA's annual meeting in Houston. Introduced with a video showing him shooting a rifle at target practice, Perry exhorted the crowd to continue to protect Second Amendment rights.

Bob McDonnell: The Washington Post this week reported that the FBI is investigating the Virginia governor's relationship to a donor who paid for the food at McDonnell's daughter's wedding. On Tuesday, McDonnell would not confirm the investigation to CBS News, but he did say he has always tried to "diligently disclose" all gifts he has received from donors.

Kelly Ayotte: The New Hampshire senator faced some tough questions from supporters of new gun laws at several town hall meetings she held in the Granite State this week. The gun control advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns arranged for family members of those killed in the Newtown, Conn. massacre to attend at least two of the meetings. But Ayotte also had her supporters. One town hall participant stood up to tell her, "you're looking very presidential."

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