Jump to Any Race
National Politics|By Amy Walter, January 21, 2015

There are enough potential candidates for president (on the GOP side at least) that you need an Excel spreadsheet just to keep them all straight. Instead of a complicated algorithm, I've boiled each candidate down to his/her most basic elements. At the end of the day, these are the things more likely to define a presidential wannabe. It's also important to distinguish between durable traits and those that are more ephemeral. For example, low name ID is something easily overcome. But, being on the "wrong side" of the base on key issues can be a campaign killer. This is by no means an exhaustive list. And, it's heavier on the GOP than the Democratic side. Instead of a full examination, I wanted to take a look at the candidates I think are the most likely to run.

The big names:

These folks have big names, big money and access to deep pockets as well as experience in the big-time spotlight. But, all have serious baggage that may not be easily stowed away in the overhead compartment.

Hillary Clinton: With money, name ID, national experience and no serious primary opposition, she starts as the best positioned of any candidate thus far. All of those things, however, can be overcome by the GOP nominee. Her biggest challenge: is she the right messenger in a year that will be defined by a desire for change, a frustration with all things DC and dynasty and a focus on income inequality?

Jeb Bush: With his Florida roots and Spanish speaking fluency, Bush is one of the only GOPers who can both expand the Electoral College map and win in Latino-heavy states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Like Hillary, Jeb's got a 'dynasty' problem. But, unlike the former Secretary of State, Jeb remains pretty ill-defined. The question is whether voters are willing to listen to his story or whether they will dismiss him out of hand.

Chris Christie: Being in the NY city media market means ready access to big donors and big-time media attention. His biggest problem isn't that he's getting squeezed by Jeb and Mitt. Christie's biggest problem is HIM. Poll after poll shows that the GOP base isn't ambivalent about New Jersey's governor - they simply don't like him. When asked if they would like Christie to run for President in 2016, 44 percent of REPUBLICANS in the most recent CBS poll said no. In my mind, those kind of negatives are disqualifying.

Mitt Romney: Having run a presidential campaign gives one incredible perspective and valuable perspective. But just because he's learned some important lessons from 2012 doesn't mean voters want to see a do-over. At a time when the GOP is desperate to break out of their demographic cul-de-sac, Romney provides no real pathway to winning over minorities or that pesky 47%.

The Senators:

Being headquartered in DC is a double-edged sword. It helps give these first term senators a national platform, TV time and easy donor access. But, it's also true that DC has probably never been more unpopular. A whopping 66 percent of Americans in the most recent ABC/Washington Post poll thought that federal government's "dysfunction" was a "major problem." These three Senators are newbies and all have Tea Party pedigrees. Still, they can't hold themselves up as outsiders like they did when running in 2010.

Marco Rubio: As a young, Latino politician who promotes and personifies a middle class economic message that goes beyond the worn out "tax cut" agenda of the GOP, Rubio has a profile capable of expanding into Electoral College territory that few other Republicans can reach. Yet, at just 43, and with only one term in the Senate (and before that nine years in the state legislature), Rubio draws a striking resemblance to another young, charismatic one-term Senator with limited executive experience. (Ahem, President Obama). That, more than his immigration bill, will cause him the most trouble in a primary.

Ted Cruz: You can say this about Cruz, you always know where he's coming from and where he's going to go. He can fire up the "take-no-prisoners" base like no other in the field. But, his ideological warrior pose is of limited appeal in a primary crowded with fellow Tea Party and Evangelical stalwarts. It also remains to be seen if his grassroots support can produce real money.

Rand Paul: The word that has come to define him above all else is "intriguing." He's hard to typecast and loves to show up at unexpected places. This appeals to political reporters (who love a good character) and to many voters. That said, it remains to be seen if primary voters are going to buy what he's selling. He's also something of a political shape shifter who has taken many different positions (or nuanced positions) at different times and to different audiences. It remains to be seen if he can endure the scrutiny he'll get over the course of a long campaign.

The Governors:

They are outsiders at a time when people hate Washington more than ever. Plus, they've got executive experience governing important states. But, they're also unknown to most Americans and typically lack a serious national network of donors.

Scott Walker: The latest CBS poll found a whopping 64 percent of Republicans couldn't identify the Wisconsin Governor. And, his low-key style and lack of sizzle makes it unlikely that'll change anytime soon. Still, the guy has proven his electoral chops in a blue state and he checks a lot of boxes in a GOP primary (evangelical, Tea Party and establishment). And, while voters may not know him, donors do. More than 50% of his money raised in 2014 came from out of state.

John Kasich: As a second term Governor of a key swing state, Kasich should be an obvious contender. He's a smart policy wonk while also politically attuned to the needs of the voters of this swing state. His biggest weakness: his personality. As one GOPer said to me,"this is a guy who can walk into a room full of friends and walk out with a roomful of enemies." His ability to offend donors and voters alike makes him a very unpredictable candidate.

Mike Pence: As one of his backers puts it, he's a guy who doesn't offend any wing of the GOP. There's nothing terrible exciting about the guy, but the former radio talk show host can command a stage better than many of his colleagues. His ties to Koch-world open up some fundraising possibilities, but in his last race, he raised very little (about 30%) from outside of Indiana.

Rick Perry: As our moms have all told us, "you only get one chance to make a first impression." And, Perry's first introduction, as he readily acknowledges, was terrible. The thing is, he's got a great story to tell about the Texas economy. It just may be too little, too late. Plus, now that he's no longer governor, will he be able to raise all the Texas money?

Bobby Jindal: A PPP poll last November found the Louisiana Governor's approval ratings in the state at about the same place as President Obama's, with just 33 percent approving and 56 percent disapproving. He may be able to find a place in the field on the Evangelical right, but it's hard to see how he gets the money, or the traction to be a serious contender.

The others:

Ben Carson: He's got a great life story. He's a charismatic speaker. He's not a politician. All help him stand out. But, going from Dr. to author/speaker is one thing. Going from Dr. to the White House, without even a run for city council is another thing all together. Politics isn't brain surgery. But, it's also unlike any other experience on Earth, and just being smart isn't enough to succeed. It's hard to see how he survives the spotlight and the scrutiny once he gets on the trail for real.

Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum: Both won Iowa. Both have a blue-collar populist appeal that resonates at a time when the GOP electorate is becoming less country club and more lunch bucket. Even so, the field is going to be much more crowded and competitive than it was in 2008 or 2012.

So, Who Wins The 2016 Nominations?

There's no empirical evidence to suggest that Hillary Clinton, if she runs (and I'm counting on this happening), is vulnerable to a challenge from her left. She will be the nominee. On the GOP side, it really is a free-for-all. Don't count on Jeb's money and establishment connections to win over skeptical GOP voters. And, while Mitt can count on "buyer's remorse" to gain sympathy and respect from the base, buyer's remorse isn't a message. Christie's negatives among the base look like a gap that is simply too big to, um, bridge. The three Senators seem the most awkwardly positioned. They are part of DC at a time when DC is more dysfunctional than ever. That leaves the Governors. None are super dynamic, and none have much name ID. Even so, it's a lot easier to build name ID than to try and fix already hardened negative perceptions about oneself. Moreover, one would rather be accused of being "boring" than being on the wrong side of key issues (like Jeb on Common Core, Paul on military issues, or Rubio on immigration). At the end of the day, the key will be endurance. The nomination will depend on which candidate has the discipline, the stamina and the ability to avoid getting caught in political land-mines, saying or doing stupid things, while still remaining appealing.