The Democratic Party’s all-eggs-in-one-basket strategy of ceding the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton is in stark contrast to the Republican Party’s 2016 playbook. The GOP has a very deep bench with no frontrunner and no candidate on the verge of taking the lead.
This makes the Republican field look weak in the short term. General election matchups at Real Clear Politics (RCP) show Clinton defeating all the widely known GOP candidates by an average of 11.3 percentage points.
But three names not listed in these matchups could be potential game changers. All three are incumbent governors running for reelection in 2014 from states that President Obama won in 2008 and again in 2012.
Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico all stand to pick up buzz if they win their respective races. And all three are attractive presidential or vice presidential candidates.
Governors’ mansions have traditionally generated the most credible presidential contenders. Governors are not vulnerable to anti-Washington sentiment. Unlike senators or former cabinet officials, they are busy governing. In principle, a governor would be in the best position to challenge Hillary Clinton, who is Washington and who has never held executive office.
(New Jersey’s Chris Christie is a sitting blue state Republican governor who catapulted to the top of the 2016 presidential heap shortly after winning his 2013 reelection by a 22-point landslide. Following such setbacks as the “Bridgegate” scandal, polls show him losing to Clinton by 9 percentage points. Nevertheless, Christie remains a strong potential candidate.)
Walker, Kasich and Martinez, all have low national name recognition, but any of them could break through as serious 2016 contenders if their reelection victories are robust enough. Take a look.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Wisconsin Democrats claim Scott Walker is an extremely polarizing governor, and he is currently embroiled in a tough reelection battle. The RCP average shows him leading his Democrat opponent, Mary Burke, by only two percentage points.
Walker became the darling of national conservatives when he triumphed in a contentious recall election instigated by public employee and teachers unions.
An April 2014 teacher’s union news update describes why Walker must defeated:
The early endorsement [for Mary Burke] means unions can gear up their forces to try to defeat a governor who pushed through a controversial law killing collective bargaining rights for almost all public workers, denying them automatic dues check off increasing unionists’ pension contributions and forcing unions to seek recertification every year.
Walker’s battle against the unions has been followed by relatively positive economic news. Wisconsin’s April state unemployment rate was 5.8% last month available) compared to the national rate of 6.3%.
In April, Walker was named on Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Accepting the award, he said:
Together, we turned a $3.6 billion deficit into a nearly $1 billion surplus, cut taxes by $2 billion, and helped the private sector create more than 100,000 jobs and nearly 17,000 new businesses. We are turning things around, and we are moving Wisconsin forward!
Walker will face all-out war mixed with union shenanigans all the way up to Election Day. If he wins he will be airlifted to the top ranks of GOP 2016 hopefuls.
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Unlike Walker, Kasich appears to be cruising to an easy reelection victory. The latest RCP average has Kasich leading Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald by 9.5 percentage points.
Kasich is a former state senator and highly popular, nine-term congressman. If his reelection turns out to be a landslide, he could easily be the media’s new “it” guy.
Back in February, before Kasich surged in the polls, the Washington Post’s popular column on 2016 candidate rankings noted: “Keep an eye on Kasich. He has the potential to move up these rankings post-November.”
Then, in an April Daily Beast column, I asked the headline question: Is JohnKasich the most formidable candidate you don’t know?
Consider the evidence:
- After Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 1994, Kasich was elevated to Chairman of the Budget Committee. There, he crafted our nation’s last balanced budget.
- After leaving Congress in 2001, Kasich spent eight years in front of the cameras on the Fox News Channel. He has also authored three best-selling books.
Kasich may have the potential to become a formidable 2016 general election candidate, but he is not a favorite among the GOP’s conservative wing.
One problem is Kasich accepted Medicaid expansion under Obamacare because he insists the program is “fiscally conservative,” and promoted it as a matter of “Christian charity.”
Ohio’s April unemployment rate was 5.7% and that bodes well for Kasich’s reelection prospects.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
Susana Martinez will face New Mexico Attorney General Gary King in her reelection bid. Although it is too soon for any post-primary polls, the last RCP matchup had Martinez defeating King by 5 percentage points.
In our age of ethnic and gender politics, Martinez stands out as the first Hispanic female governor of the United States.
A lawyer by profession, Martinez has been a Republican since 1996, when she switched parties to run for District Attorney in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. She served in that position for three terms before running for governor in 2010.
As governor, she has gained a reputation for her bipartisan governing style.
Martinez, as the nation’s only female Hispanic governor, is at the top of every pundits’ list to be the GOP’s next vice-presidential running mate.
Unfortunately for Martinez, she invariably will be compared to the GOP’s first female VP candidate, former Alaska Governor Sarah Pain — but minus the glitz and glamour. That comparison is mean-spirited, not least because Martinez, unlike Palin, is finishing her first term and on her way to reelection.
Martinez on the national ticket would be a major asset for the Republican Party as it struggles to attract both Hispanic and women voters.
Compared to Wisconsin and Ohio, New Mexico’s 6.8% unemployment rate is well above the 6.3% national average. But if Martinez wins her reelection bid by at least 5 points, the GOP can start printing 2016 bumper stickers, and leave the left side blank.
Cross-posted at National Review Online