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November 18, 2012

Welcome, American voters, to the 2016 president’s race

Rubio trip to Iowa indicates no delay in exploratory moves

The final votes re-electing President Barack Obama had not even been tallied election night when Vice President Joe Biden phoned Maggie Hassan to congratulate the Democratic governor-elect of the first primary state of New Hampshire.

Saturday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio visited the first caucus state of Iowa to headline a birthday fundraiser for GOP Gov. Terry Branstad.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential race!

Biden and other Democratic hopefuls may await Hillary Clinton’s decision before deciding on running. But Rubio’s trip signals there won’t be any delay in exploratory moves by ambitious Republicans hoping to end the GOP’s presidential woes.

Here is an initial look at some Republican prospects:

• Rubio. Elected with tea party support in 2010, Rubio has the charisma this year’s candidates lacked. As a Cuban-American, he might help with Hispanic voters, though some question his appeal to the vast majority with Mexican-American backgrounds. Rubio’s views on social issues fit those of Iowa’s religious conservatives. Still, he could be the GOP’s Barack Obama.

• Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. His family history, gubernatorial record and Mexican-born wife may give him the best chance of broadening the GOP’s appeal. Though solidly conservative on social issues, he criticized the party’s hard-line position on immigration and backed a more balanced position on the deficit. But his brother George may have damaged the family brand. Presumably, he and Rubio wouldn’t both run.

• Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. A rising figure among GOP conservatives who became a national figure when Mitt Romney tapped him for vice president, Ryan presumably made good contacts during frequent visits to Iowa. Candidates from nearby states, like Wisconsin, have always fared well there. But the last losing vice presidential candidate to win his party’s nomination was Bob Dole, who lost the 1996 election. While Ryan epitomizes the GOP base, the party badly needs candidates who can reach out to key groups it lost this year: women, Hispanics and younger voters.

• Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. An Indian-American who would only be 45 in 2016, he brings both brains – he graduated from Brown University at 20 with a double major in public policy and biology and was a Rhodes scholar – and political skills. Just 24 when named Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals, he was 32 when elected to the U.S. House and 36 when elected governor. A converted Catholic, he has appeal to GOP evangelicals as a solid conservative opposing all abortions and same sex marriage.

• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. A dynamic speaker who can fire up GOP crowds, he combines conservative views on social issues with governing experience in a predominantly Democratic state. He is willing to include revenue increases to control the deficit and reached out to minority groups by appointing both an openly gay African-American and an Asian-American to the state’s Supreme Court, though Democratic legislators rejected both. He incurred some GOP wrath by inviting Obama to tour hurricane-ravaged areas one week before the election and faces a potentially difficult re-election fight next year if Newark Mayor Cory Booker challenges him. His disinterest in pushing abortion restrictions may hamper him with religious conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina, and his blunt, outspoken manner may not play well over the long run.

• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Some believe Texas Rep. Ron Paul passed up a potential Libertarian Party presidential bid to bolster his son’s 2016 prospects. One of the first prominent Republicans elected with tea party support, he could benefit from supporters of his father who used 2012 to gain key state party posts, notably in Iowa. A potential problem: a growing feeling in some GOP circles that the tea party’s outspokenly conservative agenda is driving away moderates.

• Others: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative hero because of his stand against government employee unions, might run if Ryan doesn’t. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who explored a 2008 bid before running for governor, is managing perhaps the country’s most aggressively conservative state administration. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would add an unpredictable aspect to the race. Perhaps a 2012 also-ran such as Rick Santorum – or even Sarah Palin – will run.

The biggest problem: The rigidly conservative ideology of grass-roots Republicans who dominate the nominating process pressures more moderate candidates like Romney to take positions that don’t play well with the broader general election electorate.

Carl Leubsdorf is the former Washington Bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News. His email address is carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.


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