Washington Watch: And now.. the 2016 campaign begins

The frontrunner has to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; On the Republican side, Mitt Romney could try again in four years, barring that his running mate, Paul Ryan, would be a top contender.

Clinton (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Clinton (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If you’re a political junkie, nostalgic for the presidential campaign which ended Tuesday, you won’t have long to wait for the next one. In fact, it started before the first votes were even counted as two governors, one from each party, took some important steps toward the 2016 presidential election.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley booked a flight to Israel leaving two days after Thanksgiving and is taking along Jewish machers from around his state as well as business and academic leaders in what is ostensibly billed as a trade mission.
Just to the north New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave Americans a view of something missing on the Washington scene for years: Republican willingness to work with a Democratic president. I doubt that’s what he had in mind when he barked at reporters, “I don’t give a damn about Election Day. It doesn’t matter a lick to me at the moment. I've got bigger fish to fry,” but for Americans sick of the petty partisan bickering that has been going on for so long (and which Christie contributed to at times), it was like a candle in the darkness.
Christie actually launched his campaign on the opening night of this summer’s Republican convention with his keynote address that dwelled more on his vision and achievements than the man his party was about to nominate. He had already turned down some party bigwigs who urged him to get into the race himself, saying he didn’t feel he was ready.
His readiness to work with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy gave Americans what no other Republican offered over the past four years – a view of bipartisan cooperation at the national level. It remains to be seen whether that revolutionary concept will catch on and whether voters are as sick of partisan bickering as they tell pollsters.
Whatever the outcome of this week’s election, the Democrats will be looking for a new leader for 2016. Normally the vice president is the leading contender, but Joe Biden, even though he is dropping hints he’d be interested, will be 74 that year.
The frontrunner has to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She said she plans to retire from public life at the end of this year, but she leaves Foggy Bottom with high approval ratings, a vast network of supporters, a large fundraising base, name recognition second to none, and Bill. She will be 69 in 2016, the same age Ronald Reagan was when elected in 1980.
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney could try again in four years; barring that his running mate, Paul Ryan, would be a top contender. But he could face considerable competition.
Among the contenders look for Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who spent a lot of time at Romney’s side in this campaign and played Barack Obama is their debate rehearsals. He is more moderate and less wonky than Ryan.
Some of the failed 2012 candidates have indicated they are thinking of running again, particularly former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Don’t be surprised to see Michele Bachmann return as well.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a star at the GOP convention, sparking talk of a political future, but she is too moderate for the party base that dominates the primaries. She would be more likely to run for governor or senator in California.
Other likely candidates are a number of past and present governors including Jeb Bush of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and his successor Mike Pence, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, is a Tea Party conservative whose base is in the powerful Cuban-American community, is a rapidly rising star in the party. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, could decide to pick up the mantle of his retiring father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
The Democrats also have a strong bench for 2016. In addition to Clinton and Maryland’s O’Malley, there are several governors, senators and mayors. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, like his father, prefers to play hard to get. Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick is a dynamic speaker who is close to Obama and could tap into the president’s network of backers.
Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio made a strong impression with his keynote address at this year’s Democratic convention, reminding people of the little known 2004 keynoter, the state senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Few expected him to run four years later, much less get elected.
Don’t count out two other dynamic mayors, Corey Booker of Newark, NJ, and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. And the US Senate includes 100 ambitious politicians of both parties who are convinced they should be president no matter who is in the White House.
How can you tell when a candidate is revving up to make the run? Like Gov. O’Malley they make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for photo ops at the Wall and to pose for pictures with presidents, prime minister and kings. There are other signs of presidential ambition. Look for them to show up on television talk shows hawking ghost-written books with subtitles like “My Vision For America.”
They will also hit the rubber chicken circuit to help raise money for others and build contacts for themselves. And you’ll know for certain when they just happen to show up in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Throughout all this they will deny the trip, book and appearance has anything to do with future political ambitions, insisting they are focused on their present job and haven’t even given any thought to running for national office.
Before placing any bets, remember that four years ago this time one Republican frontrunner for 2012 was the former half-term governor of Alaska, who turned out to be a no-show this year.
©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield