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Is Clinton Versus Bush a Lock for 2016?

Hillary Clinton / Jeb Bush

The early jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign is well underway and there is a stark difference of circumstances between the two major parties. A rather large field of Republicans is taking a hard look at running for the White House next year. For the moment, that list begins with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. A recent Quinnipiac poll found Bush to be a strong contender in three crucial swing states for 2016—Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. Historically, candidates who win two out of those three states become president.

Bush was a clear favorite for the Republican nomination in his home state of Florida. But he was less of a clear favorite in the other two states, where he has competition from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Bush garnered 10 percent support in Ohio and 12 percent in Pennsylvania with several other contenders trailing close behind. As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown noted, Bush is nowhere near the frontrunner that Hillary Clinton is on the Democratic side.

Clinton was the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination in all three states for 2016. Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren trailed far behind. Biden has yet to announce what his plans are for 2016 while Warren has repeatedly said she is not running. There are other Democrats waiting in the wings, however, including former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont’s Independent Senator, Bernie Sanders and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb.

Clinton will receive some sort of challenge from within the Democratic Party. But for the moment, pollster Brown sees no major challenger emerging who would pose a genuine threat to her at this early stage of the race. “She is very popular with Democrats. She is also very well known, which has an upside and a downside. But there is no doubt that she is the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2016 if she chooses to run.”

Alternatives to Bush

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush would seem to be a strong contender along the lines of previous nominees such as his brother, George W. Bush, in 2000, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. But it’s also clear that plenty of Republicans are not intimidated by the prospect of a Bush candidacy. That includes current and former governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki. Five sitting senators have also expressed varying degrees of interest about the race: Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Two veterans of the 2012 primary campaign also seem to be preparing for a run--former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. And there are some newcomers to the national political scene who are not as well-known who may run including former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, retired surgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

But the Republican field starts with Jeb Bush, who is already being asked to compare himself to the two former presidents in his family, his father, George H.W. Bush, and his brother, George W. Bush. Bush argues he already escaped the shadow of his better known relatives during his eight years as governor of Florida. “People knew that I wasn’t just the brother of (former President) George W. and the son of my beloved dad. I was my own person.”

Bush remains a favorite of many mainstream Republicans who want to field the strongest possible candidate to counter the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. But Bush could encounter opposition from Republicans looking for a fresh face in 2016, says Republican analyst Scot Faulkner. “Jeb was an excellent governor in Florida. [But] Jeb’s got the wrong name. I mean, America fought a revolution so we don’t have dynasties.”

Democrats seem split on a Bush candidacy. Some see him as the strongest possible nominee to face off against Hillary Clinton. But others, like pollster Stan Greenberg, argued that there is still a negative hangover that Jeb Bush would have to contend with stemming from his brother’s time in office. “What surprised us was how weak Jeb Bush is [in a recent poll] and as one gets into an election cycle, the prospect of a Clinton-Bush election with all that that suggests, Jeb Bush faces major problems, a shellacking perhaps.”

Struggling for Visibility

Among those hoping to become a fresh face for Republican voters is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a favorite among libertarians who want to limit the role of government. “I am probably about as fiscally conservative as they come. I am a leader in the balanced budget movement. But I am also someone who believes in a strong national defense but not that every war is a good war to be involved with.”

Paul’s reluctance to commit U.S. troops to fight in foreign wars sets him apart from other Republican contenders like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. They argue for a tougher U.S. line on Iran and the Islamic State and do not rule out the need for U.S. ground troops to roll back Islamic State gains in the Middle East.

A preview of the 2016 Republican debates on dealing with the Islamic State will play out in the weeks ahead when the Senate takes up President Obama’s proposal for an authorization of force to expand and sustain military operations against ISIL. The Senate debate should offer voters plenty of indication as to how far the various Republican White House hopefuls would go in any military effort targeting the Islamic State.

A recent poll targeting three crucial states in U.S. presidential elections—Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida—found Jeb Bush with a slight lead in the large Republican field. But Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown says it is still too early to draw many conclusions about next year’s campaign. “The tentative leader, if there is one, is probably Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and obviously the son of one president and the brother of another. Mr. Bush is not anywhere near as strong a candidate for the Republican nomination as Mrs. Clinton is for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Bush is probably the candidate best able to compete everyplace.”

Some Republicans hope to avoid a repeat of the 2012 Republican primary campaign. Mitt Romney eventually emerged as the nominee but only after he took a lot of political hits from a large field of Republican rivals. But Republican strategist Phillip Stutts says this year’s emerging crop of Republican contenders is much stronger and deserves to be heard through numerous debates. “We should put all these candidates out. Let the process play out. Let the smart guys out there talk about their policies. Let’s have a robust debate and have fun with it and see what comes out of that.”

Even though no one has officially jumped into the race, the debate among Republican contenders has already begun and from all the early indications it looks to be a lengthy, difficult and exciting battle for the Republican nomination well into next year.

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    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.