Although we are still nearly eighteen months away from the 2016 elections, the race for president is already heating up. 

President Barack Obama is approaching the end of his second term, which means he is prohibited from running for re-election again.  Therefore, the field of contenders for the presidency is wide open.  However, some interesting dynamics dominate the field of people vying for the top elected position in our country.

The Democratic Field

Generally, when a president is term limited, the vice president is primed and ready to step in to carry on the mantle of the previous administration.  This is the path George H. W. Bush followed after the administration of President Ronald Reagan.  Therefore, Vice President Joe Biden would seem to be the automatic lead for Democrats.

However, never underestimate the power of the Clinton political machine.  Hillary and Bill Clinton have been active in the world of politics ever since Bill was elected as the Arkansas Attorney General in 1976.  Since then, the Clintons have progressively achieved higher positions of elected office.  During most of this time, Hillary chose to take on a supportive role to Bill.  However, after he left the White House in 2000 it was Hillary’s turn to run. 

Once Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000 she immediately set her sights on the White House.  She aggressively ran for the Democratic nomination for president during the 2008 election cycle.  For much of the early election season, Ms. Clinton led the group of contenders.  However, as Barack Obama surged in popularity he increasingly pushed Clinton to the side.  He ultimately won the Democratic nomination and the race for president. 

Ms. Clinton, always the team player, fell into place, assuming the role of Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.  In this role she was able to stay close to the action in Washington, while also strengthening her international credentials. 

Now that the 2016 presidential race is heating up, Ms. Clinton is back, and stronger than ever.  She has effectively scared off almost every serious Democrat throughout the country.  So far, the only two Democrats willing to put up a fight against Clinton are Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. 

Both Sanders and O’Malley are running against Ms. Clinton from the left.  Sanders is definitely running from the far left, as a self-described “democratic socialist.”  He is officially an Independent but is running as a Democrat in the presidential race.  O’Malley is not quite as far to the left as Senator Sanders, but he has staked a strong position advocating progressive policies that he argues differentiate himself from Ms. Clinton and are more closely aligned with the base of the Democratic Party.

While Sanders and O’Malley are the only two serious candidates running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, if there are any signs of trouble from the Clinton camp, several other potential contenders could quickly enter the race.  Joe Biden would be at the front of this group; however, others could include Senators Chuck Schumer from New York or Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and even Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Republican Field

As small as the Democratic field is, the Republican Presidential field is enormous and continually growing. 

The biggest struggle on the Republican side is trying to decide who is viable and who should be pushed to the side to enable a serious vetting.  In fact, as soon as the first Republican debate was announced to be held on August 6 in Cleveland, Ohio, the pre-debate heated up about how many candidates should be allowed to participate. 

In an attempt to control the number of people appearing in the debates, Fox News, who will moderate the first debate, announced that only the top 10 candidates will be allowed to participate.  Furthermore, they will measure popularity by using national polling data. 

We don’t know exactly who this will include, but according to Pollster.com the current “top” Republican candidates are:

●      Above the line:

○      1. Marco Rubio - 14.2%

○      2. Scott Walker - 12.8%

○      3. Jeb Bush - 12.7%

○      4. Ted Cruz - 9.6%

○      5. Rand Paul - 8.6%

○      6. Mike Huckabee - 7.9%

○      7. Ben Carson - 5.9%

○      8. Chris Christie - 5.8%

○      9. Rick Perry - 2.3%

○      10. Rick Santorum - 1.6%

●      Below the line:

○      11. John Kasich - 1.5%

○      12. Bobby Jindal - 1.1%

○      13. Carly Fiorina - 1.0%

○      14. Lindsey Graham - 0.0%

 

In other words, those with high name recognition will have a place on the Republican presidential stage, regardless of how well they have done with grassroots efforts in key primary states.  Also, it is possible that Ohio Governor John Kasich will be excluded from the first debate, even though he is only 0.1% behind former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and even though the first debate will be held in his home state.  This process could also exclude the only Indian-American running for President (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal) and the only woman running under a Republican ticket (former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina).

Many argue that national polls have little relationship to the actual viability of a candidate.  Others say that the Republican National Committee created this problem by limiting the number of debates and spacing them out, in an attempt to prevent what they saw as a circus during the 2012 cycle.  After all, should it be up to the RNC or Fox News to decide who is a viable candidate for president or should that be decided by the voters in the states?

What’s Next

Even though we are just starting the process of electing the next president of the United States, it looks like it will be a compelling and engaging process.  As Tim Russert used to say, “Politics is show business for ugly people.”