Thus far, I have discussed the 20 Republicans most likely to compete in 2016 for the Oval Office. So, it is only fair that I do the same for the Democrats so that, if nothing else, we can “know the enemy,” so to speak. One person is clearly the frontrunner, but if she does not decide to run, it is good to know who else is waiting in the wings. With that in mind, let us look at the early favorites.
Top Quartile- Here are the clear frontrunners at this point in the contest. The politicians in this category have the name recognition, popularity, and capital (both political and financial) to launch a serious bid.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY) – Hillary Clinton is widely regarded as the “one to beat” even though she has said that she will not run for President, again. The wife of the popular former President, she has the name recognition and respect among the left necessary to win. She should have won in 2008, but our campaigner-in-chief pulled off the improbable political upset. The only knocks against Clinton at this point are her age and potential fallout from the Benghazi disaster. Should she announce her intentions to run, I would not bet against her this time. Additionally, stepping down from her current post gives her two years to quietly build up her fundraising base and call in all of the political favors she is owed by the establishment. Of all of the folks listed here, she scares me the most.
Vice President Joe Biden (DE) – It would be irresponsible not to include the Vice President on this list. In spite of his numerous (and quite blatant) gaffes, Biden is a popular enough figure to mount a serious campaign if he so chooses. President Obama won two elections in spite of Biden, so he has the campaign experience to be a strong contender. That said, his nomination would be a gift from above. He was easy enough to ignore on the bottom of the ticket, but Democrats would always have to be in damage control mode if he wins the nomination.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY) – Young and relatively successful, so far, Governor Cuomo is one of the few up-and-coming stars in the Democrat Party. Cuomo, of course, owes much of his political career to his father, but he is starting to prove that he can be successful on his own in the future. He has done a remarkable job leading New York through the crisis of Hurricane Sandy and has accomplished much of his ambitious agenda (including passing gay marriage laws in New York). If nothing else, he has been the best governor New York has had since George Pataki. If anyone could launch an Obama-like insurrection against Hillary Clinton, my money would be on Andrew Cuomo.
Former Senator Evan Bayh (IN) – Evan Bayh is extremely popular in traditionally-red Indiana and very nearly was selected as Obama’s running mate back in 2008. He has a reputation as a relatively moderate consensus-builder and has a good amount of name recognition across the country. The fact that he formed an exploratory committee in 2008 to run for President indicates that he does have the ambition to run.
Senator Mark Warner (VA) – Delivering the Keynote Address at the 2008 DNC is a good way to get your name out there. Senator (and former Governor) Mark Warner hails from the crucial swing state of Virginia, a state he governed from 2002-2006. His relatively conservative fiscal policies (compared to most Democrats) earned him a wildly popular reputation in his rather conservative state and he has not lost an election since 1996. Warner winning the Democrat nomination (or being selected as the running mate) would create headaches for the Republicans.
Second Quartile- These are figures who are popular or prominent within certain circles, but lack either the name recognition or ambition to be considered a frontrunner at this point.
Governor Martin O’Malley (MD) – Governor O’Malley’s presidential ambitions are hardly hidden from most observers of politics. Apparently, he is a bit of a fundraising juggernaut and has been compared to Bill Clinton. Still, I do not think that O’Malley, at this time, has the national name recognition to seriously challenge any of the aforementioned figures. I think 2016 is still a little too early for O’Malley, but keep an eye on him. Like Andrew Cuomo, he is one of the few rising stars within the Democrat Party. Certainly by 2020, assuming the GOP wins in 2016, he will be ready and prominent enough to mount a strong campaign. I think he will run in 2016, but will be shooting to increase his name recognition and build up a strong base for the future.
Senator Tim Kaine (VA) – Kaine is fresh off of his victory over George Allen. President is about the only position he has not yet had, so I would not be at all surprised to see him run in 2016. Even though he will only be a first-term junior senator, he was a popular governor of a critical swing state, former DNC Chairman, and was another strong contender to be Obama’s running mate in 2008. Like Mark Warner, I think a 2016 run for Kaine depends upon the strength of the other contenders. Kaine would probably lose if Hillary Clinton ran, but if she sits out, he has nothing to lose by entering the fray.
Governor Deval Patrick (MA) – Hailing from Massachusetts, Deval Patrick is, of course, a liberal’s liberal, and could make a strong showing by winning the minority and progressive wings of the party in the contests (again, if Hillary Clinton declines to run). Patrick was one of the few Democrats who managed to survive the Republican Tsunami of 2010, indicating that he is a popular governor within his state. Like Andrew Cuomo, I think Patrick is capable of launching an Obama-like insurrection against Hillary Clinton, but I think it is more likely that Patrick will find his name at the top of any VP list, especially if Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, or Evan Bayh would win the nomination.
Governor Brian Schweitzer (MT) – Without question, Governor Schweitzer is the most conservative of all the Democrat contenders, at this point. Governor of red Montana, Schweitzer has nonetheless enjoyed extremely high approval ratings because of his conservative stances on gun rights and energy policies. Schweitzer is not well known on the East Coast, so I would not put him up there with Clinton, Bayh, and Warner, but he could very well find himself on a VP list, if his campaign fizzles out. Like O’Malley, I think Schweitzer needs more time to establish a greater level of name recognition. He has time, so he is another one to keep an eye on.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) – Senator Gillibrand has proven herself to be a political chameleon, adjusting her positions according to the constituency she represents. She first entered the political realm as a “Blue Dog” Democrat representing a district in Upstate New York. Since replacing Hillary Clinton in the Senate, Gillibrand has switched many of her formerly “conservative” positions, such as being opposed to gun control, because she now represents “Downstate,” and the rabidly anti-gun policies of New York City. Gillibrand also has a reputation as the “hottest Senator,” according to Senator Harry Reid; a factor that could definitely help her if she decided to run. I think, ultimately, Gillibrand’s decision of whether or not to run will depend upon whether or not Hillary Clinton runs. Gillibrand has been a steadfast supporter of Clinton, and would probably not want to interfere with the plans of the Clinton machine. If Clinton does not run, Gillibrand could emerge as the choice of the feminist caucus of the Democrat Party.
These are the 10 figures I think conservatives should be watching for the next four years. Hillary Clinton is the obvious favorite to lead the Democrats at this point, but the other 9 listed here cannot be counted out. Especially if Hillary decides not to run, knowing these figures is crucial for a 2016 victory. Look out next week for Part II of the Democrat contenders list!