The calendar may say that it’s another 770-plus days until the November 2016 election, but that doesn’t prevent us from engaging in a little speculation.
That conjecturing comes in different shapes and forms – the individuals who want to succeed Barack Obama; their strategies for winning their respective parties’ nominations; and, curiously, whether at least one of the two parties will tinker with the timelines and guidelines for acquiring said nomination.
With that in mind, here are three 2016 storylines worth watching for now:
1) Christie vs. the Field. Every April, gambling junkies agonize over a simple wager: Tiger Woods versus the rest of the field at the Masters Golf Tournament, where Woods has 10 top-five finishes (four of them wins) in 19 starts as well as the tournament’s lowest 72-hole score (so dominant was the younger Woods that Augusta added extra yards and trees to the fabled course to make it a fairer fight). The 2016 equivalent of this wager: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie versus the field of Republican hopefuls – specifically, Tea Party hopefuls. What makes this a fun wager? Part of it is Christie’s penchant for taking potshots at the anti-establishment grassroots movement (including this snippet, right after his landslide re-election win: “On governing, it’s about doing things, accomplishing things, reaching across the aisle and crafting accomplishments”). What sweetens the wager: as the Tea Party isn’t a unified body, can it go after Christie in an organized manner, by rallying behind one standard-bearer, or will several candidates – each claiming to be the true Tea Partier in field – dilute the field? On Election Night 2010, amidst a House Republican landslide, the movement didn’t lack for self-proclaimed leaders angling for camera time: former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth, to name just three. In a 2016 Republican presidential field, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all could angle for Tea Party support. All of which sounds wonderful from Christie’s perspective: the more Tea Party challengers, the lesser a chance of one Tea Partier getting more votes.
2) Hillary vs. What Field? Then there’s the Democratic race, which at this point in 2013 is at least one rider shy of access to an HOV-3 lane. A low-occupancy Democratic field isn’t unprecedented – the 2000 election was a two-man race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley and no other callers of significance; the Democratic contests of 1992, 2004 and 2008 quickly narrowed to two finalists. What’s unusual, for now, is the lack of a splashy challenger to Hillary Clinton (excluding Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s trying to turn his Baltimore “believe” argument into a rationale for a national campaign). That all changes should Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jump into the contest (sure, she’d have only four years in the Senate – just like Barack Obama in 2008). Why the interest in Warren? Depending on who’s doing the analysis, she taps into a growing frustration with establishment Democrats in particular and corporate candidates in general (Hillary being guilty on both counts); she’s closer to the progressive heartbeat than Mrs. Clinton ever will be (translation: not as boring). In sum: she’s a nightmare for the Clinton bandwagon. This should sound familiar to Mrs. Clinton. In 1992, her husband had a hard time shaking off a pesky challenger who had no qualms making very personal attacks against the candidate and his wife’s integrity – in this video, Californians will recognize the attacker (by the way, if Warren wants to co-opt Jerry’s 1-800 hotline number, it’s still working).
3) What Field to Plow for Republicans? Mitt Romney struggled in various ways in 2012, one being his inability to secure his party’s nomination as quickly as he would have liked. Romney didn’t “go over the top” – surpassing the 1,144-delgate threshold – until the 2012 Texas presidential primary, which was held on the day after Memorial Day (in 2008, John McCain became the de facto GOP nominee on the first Tuesdayin March). By then, the Obama campaign was already running ads attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital. How to avoid a repeat scenario in 2016? One idea currently being floated would be to create a “Midwestern Super Tuesday” following the traditional early votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, putting in play the Great Lakes states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Also up for consideration when the Republican National Committee meets next winter: moving up the party’s national convention six weeks earlier, to mid-July (McCain, in 2008, had to wait the better part of six months before giving his convention acceptance speech). The primary schedule did Romney no favor in 2012: 23 states voted by the first Tuesday in March, versus 38 states in 2008. Romney was also hampered by a party rule change that required states with elections before April 1 to proportionally award their delegates. Two other changes to look for: (1) Republicans agreeing to a trimmed-down debate schedule in 2016, versus the debate overload in 2012 – “a reasonable number” being the party’s current guideline; (2) renewed talk of GOP efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan – Virginia’s out, now that it’s elected a Democratic governor – to alter those states’ allotment of electoral votes (from winner-take-all to awarding by congressional districts). To the question of how to panic a Democratic, the answer would be “electoral college reform”.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen