Two years from now we will be full throttle into the 2016 presidential campaign cycle and if the current opinion polls are any guide, Hillary Clinton should be well on her way to winning the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The strange thing is, I might have written that same sentence in 2006 and as it turned out I would have been COMPLETELY WRONG.
The latest ABC-Washington Post poll has Clinton winning the support of 73 percent of Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden is a distant second with 12 percent, followed by Massachusetts Senate Elizabeth Warren at eight percent. Clinton also racked up a huge lead in the latest Public Policy Polling survey, drawing the support of 67 percent of those Democrats asked.
The numbers are stunning and right now it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Hillary Clinton does not clinch the Democratic nomination. Senator Warren has said she will not run and even if Joe Biden does, the vast majority of Democratic strategists give a huge edge to Clinton. There is talk of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley making a bid, but he has little national name recognition and shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Hillary. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean might decide to make another run and offer himself as a liberal alternative to Clinton. He was the fresh face in the 2004 campaign but would be the longest of long shots in 2016, scream or no scream.
Clinton has said she will decide whether to run later this year but some pro-Hillary groups are already out there beating the bushes on her behalf. The Ready for Hillary political action committee is holding fundraisers and doing some grassroots organizing, especially in early contest states like Iowa. Clinton had an early stumble in Iowa in 2008 and never fully recovered. But this time a lot of folks who helped Barack Obama six years ago are already quietly lining up behind Hillary, another sign that party activists look to her as the president heir-apparent.
A lot can go wrong between now and 2016 and Hillary Clinton knows a thing or two about being upset by a lesser-known challenger. If President Obama’s approval ratings remain low, voters may opt for a party change two years from now to escape the Obama hangover. In addition, you can bet Republicans will continue to press Clinton about her tenure as secretary of state, especially the terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Clinton recently called the incident her “biggest regret” in her four years as secretary.
University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato says it would be rare for the Democrats to nominate someone without a primary challenge and he predicts someone will come forward to at least try and make it a contest. But for now the Clinton-campaign-in-waiting is seen as a political juggernaut and it would seem the only thing that would derail it is a completely unexpected decision by Hillary Clinton not to run. At the moment, all the indications are that she probably will.
Wide Open Republican Race
The same polls that showed Hillary Clinton running away with the Democratic nomination also indicate there is no clear frontrunner for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2016. Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan led the field in the latest ABC-Washington Post survey with 20 percent support, followed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with 18 percent and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at 13 percent. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio rounded out the field. Several other Republican governors may also be interested including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
What happens in this year’s midterm congressional elections could have a major impact on the Republican field. The new year dawned with mainstream Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner reasserting their authority and pushing back against Tea Party supporters who were behind last October’s shutdown of the federal government. Republicans see a major opportunity this year to both hold or expand their majority in the House of Representatives and possibly gain control of the Senate. They need to gain six Senate seats for a majority and several of the key races this year are in Republican-leaning states. Republicans strategists worry that the only thing that could derail their efforts this year is a repeat of what happened in 2012 and 2010 when Tea Party candidates emerged victorious from Republican primaries only to lose to Democrats in the general election.
Mainstream Republican strategists want to keep the Tea Party in check this year and again in the presidential race in 2016, hoping that a candidate acceptable to moderates like Jeb Bush might emerge as a consensus nominee. But this is tricky. The core of political energy in the Republican Party since 2009 has come from grassroots Tea Party activists, some of whom are just as upset with the Republican Party establishment as they are with Democrats. Bush may not be a good fit for them and Bush himself has said he only wants to run if it can be a joyful pursuit, not a death march to get to the nomination.
The other favorite Republican moderate, Chris Christie, is in scandal limbo at the moment, waiting to see how the flap over his aides orchestrating traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge plays out. At the very least it will be months before the New Jersey scandal clarifies to the point where we might know how much damage Christie has sustained. In the meantime Republicans will probably face a choice of two different groups of candidates—Tea Party favorites like Cruz, Paul and Rubio will be in one corner while more mainstream contenders like Ryan, Walker and Kasich will make up the other category. I have a feeling the 2016 Republican primary field will be crowded and that it will take months of debates and primary contests to sort out an eventual nominee.
But don’t kid yourself. The first stage of the 2016 campaign is already under way for both parties in the race to see who will succeed Barack Obama and become the 45th President of the United States.