In April, I updated my “power rankings” for the Democratic and Republican presidential contenders. Not much has occurred since then on the Democratic side, but the Republican side has seen a lot of intrigue.
Based on the RCP Average, the 2016 Republican Presidential contest as of today has Christie in the narrowest of leads with 15.8% of the vote. Paul Ryan has 15%, followed by Rand Paul (12.3%), Marco Rubio (11.8%), and Jeb Bush (10%). Ted Cruz (7.3%), Bobby Jindal (2.5%), Scott Walker (2%), and Susana Martinez (1.5%) all round out the single-digits group. However, the leader of the pack by a wide margin is “undecided” with 21.8%. Most notably, there is no front-runner based on the excruciatingly early polls (those in the double-digits are all within roughly 5 points of each other).
The Democratic side is a little more clear-cut (at least at this point, assuming Clinton does jump in and isn’t surpassed by a younger, more liberal fresher face like 2008). According to the RCP Average, the 2016 Democratic Presidential contest has Clinton up by 42 points (with 55% of the national primary vote). The Vice-President is in clear command for second place at 12.8%, but the only others who register on the average are Andrew Cuomo (4%), Mark Warner (1.3%), and Martin O’Mally (1%). However, it should be noted that PPP does test Elizabeth Warren, who consistently beats out the 3 single-digits amigos.
However, at this point, polling is merely a test of voted awareness/name ID. Thus, we can’t solely rely on such numbers when determining the power rankings.
Clinton (no change): Until she officially says yes or no and until someone becomes a viable challenger to her nomination, Clinton will remain in a league of her own. She is nowhere near as unbeatable as the polls suggest (in either the primary or general), but until we get closer, it’ll be hard to determine her true fallibility.
Biden (no change): The Vice President remains the favorite among the non-Clinton group. However, he definitely doesn’t carry the gravitas that the former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State has. He, unlike Clinton, may be more vulnerable to the “too old, too much of the past, too connected to Obama” attacks from other primary challengers. He also isn’t doing well on hypothetical head-to-head matchups against Republicans and that’s with near universal name ID. Expect him to start dropping as other Democratic contenders make it clear they are eyeing the race.
Warren (up 1 spot): She’s a progressive populist who I can’t stand and would never make it across the final finish line in November 2016, but she clearly has a base in the Democratic Party and has become much prominent. However, she’s shown no intention to run and there is no reason to believe she’d be able to appeal to voters outside of far-left Massachusetts.
Cuomo (up 1 spot): He is eyeing the race more so than the other New Yorker (Kristen Gillibrand) on the list. His legislative accomplishments prove he is a doer and an effective one, but he has vulnerabilities that an agile challenger could take advantage of.
Klobuchar (up 1 spot): She beats out her Senate counterpart (Gillibrand) because she appears to be quietly making more advert moves (yes, I realize that could easily be an oxymoron) toward a run. Her appearance at an Iowa Democratic event could be mere coincidence given Minnesota borders the important caucus state, but when it comes to Iowa trips, calculation tends to trump coincidence. However, Klobuchar has done little to raise her profile outside of Minnesota/Iowa.
Gillibrand (down 3 spots): She’s fallen to the top of the 3rd tier because she has fallen out of national press. Her moves for the LBGT movement propelled her into the spotlight, but since then she hasn’t down much to maintain her elevated profile. The junior NY Senator also isn’t making the speech circuits to the first primary states. Overall, while she could be formable, she’s showing absolutely no interest at all.
O’Malley (up 1 spot): While Gillibrand is showing no interest, Martin O’Malley has been showing a lot of interest. His problem isn’t a desire to run; it’s that he is lacking the “x factor.” His record is staunchly progressive; he has shown a technocratic approach to governing, but something about him cries out boring. He could easily become the “T-Paw” of 2016: all the right components on the resume but lacking a place in the field.
Hickenlooper (down 1 spot): He is arguably the most attractive non-Easterner and if he can win re-election (which compared to a few months ago is a little less certain), he’d be in a position to present himself as a classic outsider to the East coast/D.C. mayhem. The question is whether his low-profile personality would be able to carry him into the 2nd tier.
Warner (no change): Warner closes out the 3rd tier. He is widely popular in Virginia and will cruise to re-election in 2014. He has a lot of the characteristics of what should be a successful candidate, except that he lacks a constituency. He’s not progressive enough to commandeer that group; he’s not environmentalist enough; he’s a pro-business centrist with glimmers of progressiveness. But his expected Senate re-election blowout in a must-win state for the Democrats keeps him in contention.
Unless something changes, I’m eliminating from the power rankings the April Tier 4 names. The above list is still fluid, so additions/subtractions may occur until the field is set, but Evan Bayh, Tim Kaine, Jon Tester, Deval Patrict (who ruled himself out recently), Mike Beebe, John Lynch, Brian Schweitzer (who decline a Senate bid highlighting his distaste for DC), and Michael Bloomberg all don’t have anything to warrant their inclusion at this point.
I’m going to be a little controversial right now with my Tier 1 picks. Really the battle, if one does transpire, is going to be between the “Establishment” vs. the “Outsider.” Typically the “Establishment” always wins in Republican contests, but there is a growing sense that the right “Outsider” (i.e. the one who placates the conservative activists, but doesn’t scare the power brokers) could come out on top (something that almost occurred in 1976 – Ford vs. Reagan).
Christie (up 1 spot): Christie is definitely the “Establishment” candidate. While he is nowhere near as moderate as he tries to make himself out to be or how the media is portraying him, compared to other possible Republican contenders, he definitely is the furthest to the left. However, he’s at the top beating out his “Outsider” foe because he has two aspects on his side that Rand Paul doesn’t (and likely, never will): top donors/power brokers on his side and the electability argument. Christie is cruising to a landslide re-election in a D+6 state and is the only candidate who consistently keeps Clinton within the margin of error or beats her in hypothetical head-to-heads.
Paul (up 1 spot): At this point, Rand Paul has been on a great ride in the media. He has propelled himself as the “Outsider” candidate to beat. His outside-the-mainstream opinions/policies make him hard to peg down. He potentially can unite the Paulist movement with the other conservative activists, but has shown a pragmatism his father never exhibited. Two questions, though, persist: 1) does he have what it takes to run/maintain a national campaign without making cringe-worthy gaffes, and 2) does Kentucky electoral law allow him to simultaneously run for President and Senate?
This tier represents those who could easily take Christie and/or Paul’s place as the “Establishment” and “Outsider” representative. However, note that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some candidates could easily fit into either spot, which could conceivably make them very potent contenders if they can put together an effective/well-finance national infrastructure.
Rubio (down 2 spots): Rubio, like Walker and Ryan below, can easily position himself into either camp. Rubio appears to have taken a little hit from his involvement in the immigration reform move. However, his involvement showed a courageousness that is sometimes lacking in modern politics. Nonetheless, he is still a potent and able contender with a lot of skills that shouldn’t be overlooked. He, too, has to determine whether Florida election law will allow him to run for President and Senate at the same time, however.
Bush (up 2 spots): The younger Bush brother can easily grab the “Establishment” title if he wants it. As Harry Enten recently pointed out, he has all the makings of the Republican nominee: claim to the title, establishment support, proven winner, trusted by conservatives, and the right ideology ranking. However, do the Republicans really want to return to the Bush dynasty? Another issue is whether Jeb wants to get in or merely use the prospect of getting in to help maintain his stature for his education reform efforts.
Walker (no change): The Governor of Wisconsin has to get re-elected first in 2014 before he can truly let people known his 2016 intentions, but this is clear, Walker has the making for the perfect consensus candidate. He is a skilled politician who doesn’t scare off moderates/Independents, but yet has the policy credentials to placate the far-right (both the Tea Party/Paulite types, but also the social conservatives). If he can raise the money/build the network (of which he has proven capable), he’d be a tough challenger. Some worry about his low-profile personality (i.e. another GOP “T-Paw”), but he has something Pawlenty never did, a rallying cry and a national profile (both from his 2012 union fight).
Ryan (down 2 spots): The former VP nominee could claim both mantles, but first he has to determine whether he wants to be the person signing legislation or the one crafting/passing it. While Ryan excelled on the stump during the 2012 campaign and is viewed very favorably by both the establishment and activists, he is much more a policy wonk than an executive. Plus, he’s never won statewide office. Chances are he’ll sit this out and seek House leadership.
Martinez (up 3 spots): If the New Mexico governor wins re-election, like she is expected to, and shows interest in running for the White House (very unlikely given her family circumstances), she’ll shoot up the tiers very quickly. She has all the right personality and policy traits, but just lacks the interest.
Jindal (no change): If anyone is going to be the GOP’s 2016 “T-Paw,” I put my money on Jindal. He is consistently named a top tier candidate despite his plummeting poll numbers back home (those who know you best…), his lack of gravitas on the stump, and his general awkwardness. He might be a brilliant wonk, but it takes more than that to get the nomination/win. So, why does he beat out Huckabee/Tier 4 contenders; because he has the ability to straddle multiple constituencies and hasn’t blown it already on the national stage (minus his State of the Union response, which is inconsequential since no one besides the pundits watch those).
Huckabee (up 2 spots): Huckabee’s problem is also his asset. He is essentially a single-issue candidate. Especially now. His whole candidacy in 2008 centered on his evangelical past and his whole reputation now remains firmly that. He is the social conservatives’ candidate and will never be anything else. That plays well in Iowa, South Carolina (although doesn’t guarantee a win there), and other mid-Western/Southern states, but doesn’t win you the nomination. He could broaden his appeal prior to 2016, but it appears he’s unlikely to do so.
Huntsman, Perry, Santorum: These three individuals may take another stab at winning the nomination. They all didn’t catch on in 2012 for one reason or another, but all have this in common, 2016 will not be there chance. While they might have luck with a certain small group that could give them hope, at the end of the day, 2016 is going to be a much stronger bench than 2012, which means they’ve already squandered their best hope.
I’ve eliminate many from the list. Most notably is Bob McDonnell (previously 3rd in Tier 2) who is embroiled in a controversial ethics scandal in Virginia. While it’s unclear as to whether he broke the law, the optics of it all will prevent him from running for office again; too bad, because he’s been a very effective conservative governor. Also eliminated is Brian Sandoval (previously 2nd in Tier 3). He’s off the list not because he done anything (he’s actually in a strong position for re-election and could be the one to knock off Reid in 2016), but because he is pro-choice. Just as the Democrats will never nominate a pro-life candidate, the GOP will never nominate a pro-choice one.
Also, eliminated are Senators Thune, Portman, and Toomey, Nikki Haley, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and Condi Rice. All either have absolutely no hope at being competitive at all or have shown no interest at all in running. Therefore, unless something changes, they will remain off the list.