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Romney Remains Favorite Among Some Republicans for 2016

FILE - Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013.
FILE - Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013.

Mitt Romney may have come up in short in two tries for the presidency, but apparently there are plenty of Republicans out there who would support him should he decide to make another run in 2016. A recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University found Romney the first choice of Republicans in Iowa, the state that begins the presidential selection process every four years. Romney got 35 percent followed by “undecided” at 10 percent, nine percent for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tied at six percent.

Without Romney in the field, the poll found that “undecided” led the field with 17 percent, followed by Huckabee at 13 percent and Christie as 10 percent.

But in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Romney threw cold water on the idea of a third run for the White House. “I’m not running and not planning on running.” Romney added that there “no question” in his mind he would make a better president than either Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton or the man who beat him in 2012, President Barack Obama. And to those Republicans openly pushing him to make another run, Romney didn’t seem to leave much daylight. “My time has come and gone,” he said. “I had the opportunity. I ran and didn’t win.”

Still in demand

Romney remains in demand as a potent fundraiser and campaigner for Republican candidates around the country. He could play a role in galvanizing traditional Republican voters in states like Arkansas, North Carolina and Iowa where Democratic Senate incumbents are in tight re-election battles.

Despite the recent attention, Romney for months has steadily declined interest in another run for the White House. Some supporters saw a sliver of hope in a recent interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt in which Romney acknowledged that “circumstances can change, but I’m just not going to let my head go there.”

A CNN/ORC poll from July found that Romney would now win a replay of the 2012 election with President Obama by a margin of 53 to 44 percent.

But a number of conservative activists seem less than enthused. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen said the recent CNN poll was more an example of “buyer’s remorse” for voters who re-elected President Obama in 2012 than a yearning for another Romney campaign. Thiessen added: “There is no need to settle for the ‘least worst’ candidate this time around.”

If not Romney, who?

No doubt some of the nostalgia for Romney is driven by the lack of a clear frontrunner for the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination. At this point you can make the case for no fewer than a dozen plausible Republicans considering a run for president in two years, but none of them seem to come anywhere close in public opinion polls to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the favorite for the Democratic nomination if she runs.

But there is a growing sense among Republican Party leaders that Clinton may not be invincible if she becomes the Democratic nominee. They believe that public dissatisfaction with President Obama will be a determining factor in the 2016 election, opening the way for a Republican who can appeal to moderate voters to have a realistic chance of winning the White House.

They like to cite recent U.S. political history and the fact that only once since World War II have American voters elected presidents from one party three consecutive times. George H.W. Bush was able to succeed President Ronald Reagan in 1988, effectively winning a third Reagan term. Democrat Al Gore came up short in his 2000 race against George W. Bush in his bid to succeed President Bill Clinton.

In his interview, Romney said he loved running for president but will not this time because he believes “someone new that is not defined yet, someone who perhaps is from the next generation, will be able to catch fire, potentially build a movement and be able to beat Hillary Clinton.”

We’d love to know who you’re talking about there, Mr. Romney. Chris Christie? Rand Paul? Paul Ryan? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Rick Perry? John Kasich? A lot can happen between now and 2016 and it will probably take that long for the Republican presidential contenders to sort themselves out. In the meantime, you have to wonder if Romney will be eagerly watching from the sidelines, ready to step in perhaps if there is a stalemate or no clear frontrunner.

Potential contenders busy

The lack of a clear Republican frontrunner hasn’t stopped several potential candidates from testing the political waters. Chris Christie is spending time in Mexico talking about U.S. energy needs but also vowing to do a lot of listening and learning as he seeks to bolster his limited foreign policy credentials.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul spent time in Guatemala, as he has for years, performing eye care as a public service using his skills as an ophthalmologist. Paul remains at the center of a developing foreign policy debate within the Republican Party where he advocates less of a military role for the U.S. in foreign conflicts.

Another likely 2016 contender, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, recently said the U.S. should bomb Islamic State militants “back to the Stone Age” during a speech to a conservative group in Texas. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also a likely contender, has also staked out more traditionally conservative positions in favor of using U.S. military power overseas where warranted. Expect this to be a key issue of debate among all the Republican contenders in the run-up to 2016.

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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.