News / USA

    From Obscurity to the White House

    President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, their children Malia and Sasha, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, wave on stage on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.
    President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, their children Malia and Sasha, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, wave on stage on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.
    Barack Obama still has just under three years left in his presidency but you wouldn’t know that from the activities of Washington’s political elite.  Their focus has already turned to this November’s midterm congressional elections and, increasingly, to the 2016 race for president.  This may seem early to some but U.S. presidential campaigns have begun earlier than ever in recent years as prospective candidates assess their chances for winning and fundraising.  This is particularly true for Republicans considering a run for the White House in 2016.
     
    Democrats are frozen in place waiting for word from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.  If she runs, as many Democrats hope and expect, it would appear the party nomination is hers for the asking.  If she doesn’t, all hell could break loose.  Vice President Joe Biden would get a new lease on his political life and we would hear an awful lot about little known Democrats like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Montana governor Brian Sweitzer.
     
    As for the Republicans, for the first time in a long time there is no clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination two years from now.  Combine that with an ongoing power struggle within the party between mainstream leaders and insurgent Tea Party groups and you have the makings for an all-out struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party playing out during the 2016 presidential primaries.  At this point it seems anywhere from eight to 12 Republicans are seriously considering a presidential bid in 2016 and while many of them seem longshots now, we have seen candidates in the past who have emerged from relative obscurity to win the highest office in the land.

    John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a longtime observer of Republican Party politics, sees the 2016 presidential field as the most unpredictable and wide open in decades.  “It depends a bit on how the conservative base is unified or divided and I think right now it is a relatively wide open race for seven or eight players to potentially rise to the top.”
     
    Nominees from nowhere
     
    In 1975, my college roommate was eager to work on a Democratic presidential campaign and took a call from an obscure former southern governor recruiting volunteers to work in some of the northeastern states.  I was able to listen in on an extension as a man with a thick Georgia drawl began his pitch, “Hi Steve.  This is Jimmy Carter.”  Steve was excited but I wondered how an unknown was going to compete with better known Democrats like Morris Udall, Birch Bayh, Henry Jackson, Lloyd Bentsen and Sargent Shriver.  Carter of course went on to win the 1976 election, defeating President Gerald Ford.  He also blazed a political trail followed by another little-known southern governor in 1992 by the name of Bill Clinton.
     
    Historically, Democrats have been more likely to nominate a relative unknown than Republicans.  In addition to former presidents Carter and Clinton, Democrats also nominated George McGovern in 1972, Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Barack Obama in 2008.  Republicans have generally been more orderly if you trace the genealogy from Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush to Bob Dole to George W. Bush to John McCain and Mitt Romney.  As former President Clinton once said “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line,” when it comes to picking their presidential candidates.  But that may be turned on its head in 2016.
     
    Republican dark horses
     
    Many will consider former Florida governor Jeb Bush a frontrunner for the Republican nomination should he decide to run.  Other mainstream Republican favorites include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012.  Christie was seen by establishment Republicans as their best hope to reclaim the White House in 2016 before he got entangled in a political scandal in New Jersey brought about when some of his aides orchestrated several days of traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly out of political revenge.  Ongoing investigations could cloud Christie’s political future for months.
     
    With no clear frontrunner for 2016, many Republicans are thinking about joining the fray.  In the category loosely described as Tea Party favorites you can include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  Several governors are in the mix including Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich of Ohio and maybe Mike Pence of Indiana.  There’s another group of previous candidates who may make another try including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
     
    No shortage of potential candidates but also very little clue as to how Republican primary voters will react in 2016.  Could an outsider like Rand Paul win over enough mainstream Republicans to become the nominee?  Can Jeb Bush win over Tea Party supporters given his moderate views on immigration?  Can Chris Christie win back some of the trust he’s lost because of the scandal in New Jersey?  Could an unknown like Bobby Jindal or Scott Walker really capture the Republican nomination and then the presidency?
     
    At the moment it looks as though much of the 2016 debate is likely to focus on domestic issues.  In part that’s because a rough consensus has emerged in public opinion polls that Americans are tired after more than a decade of military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Carroll Doherty with the Pew Research Center says this sentiment seems to cut across party lines.  “What is surprising to me in the polling is the non-partisanship of the public’s attitudes on foreign policy.  Republicans and Democrats both want the United States to be less engaged in the world geopolitically.  In terms of military approaches to problems, the decade of war has really taken a toll on the public’s psyche and there is just no interest for that kind of military intervention in most cases.” 
     
    Who emerges as the Republican nominee in 2016 is important because given historical trends the party should be competitive for the White House two years from now.  Beginning with Dwight Eisenhower’s first election in 1952, it is rare for one party to hold the White House more than two consecutive terms.  It’s happened only once since then—in 1988 when Vice President George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan to keep the White House in Republican hands for three straight terms.
     
    Democrats may like the odds for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but she could face plenty of headwinds if she runs including President Obama’s low approval ratings, the split in the country over the Obamacare health care law, and what could be a strong desire for change among Republican and independent voters.  So it may be worth paying close attention to the emerging Republican field for 2016.  They include several little-known figures that may or may not ready for the political big time.  But if history is any guide, it’s at least possible that someone we currently know relatively little about could wind up taking the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States on January 20th, 2017.

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: LaVerne Wheeler from: Amesbury MA
    April 21, 2014 3:36 PM
    So very disappointed the author found it necessary to discuss the Affordable Care Act as "obamacare". It is devoutly to be wished that "non-partisan" sites would use the more appropriate appellation rather than fall prey to media hype terminology.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora