Like it or not, the 2016 race is in full swing. Hillary and Biden have long been prepping for their duel. Rick Santorum is starting his 3-year campaign/tour of Iowa. Rand Paul is leading the charge against Hillary’s Benghazi bumbling. Jeb Bush is suddenly re-entering the spotlight. Christie is managing to talk like a Democrat while governing (fairly) conservatively. Rubio is trying to recover from the illegal immigration debacle by presenting strong pro-life legislation and joining Cruz, who is also charging hard, and Paul in the defund Obamacare charge.
This list is being updated a little earlier than planned following pretty big momentum shifts over the past few months. Who is falling and who is rising?
In politics, momentum and fortune can change quickly for candidates. In 2012, Mitt Romney was always the frontrunner as he faced – and dismantled – one challenger after the next. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and even Donald Trump all took turns as the “antidote” to Mitt Romney. While the 2012 race pitted a frontrunner against many second-tier candidates, the 2016 race will be one that has no clear frontrunner and many first-tier candidates. And expect plenty of volatility in the race. Find out how badly our previous number one has fallen.
10. Rick Santorum (-2 from previous ranking)
As the “runner up” to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary, Rick Santorum should be at the top of this list, historically speaking. John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan all became the GOP nominee after placing second in their previous attempts. But Santorum’s 2012 campaign was more about being the last man standing than it was obtaining a true grassroots following. And though he is currently barnstorming Iowa (yes, this early), the next field will probably be way out of his league. One recent primary poll in Louisiana had Santorum in a distant 8th place with 5% of the vote despite winning nearly 50% in the state just over a year ago.
9. Susana Martinez (+1)
Despite no indication that she wants to run, Martinez remains here as a wild card. A popular governor of a smaller swing state who happens to be Hispanic and female is certainly one to watch out for.
8. Rick Perry (previously unranked)
Following his primary implosion in 2012, Rick Perry has used his position as Governor of Texas to push a solidly conservative agenda. His push for pro-life legislation and the continued success of Texas makes Perry a viable candidate. Money won’t be a problem, but can he avoid getting lost in a sea of candidates?
7. Scott Walker (+2)
Against all odds, Scott Walker keeps winning and thriving in left-leaning Wisconsin. The low-key Governor still needs to win re-election in 2014, but if he does that watch out. Walker has all the tools, qualifications, and result needed to become President, but his big obstacle will be overcoming the more dominant personalities in the field.
6. Marco Rubio (-5)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. When Rubio willingly became the face and voice of President Obama and Chuck Schumer’s illegal immigration plan, he unlocked the door for more conservative challengers on the right. And while it was noble to tackle the issue, the grassroots found that his arguments in favor of the legislation did not mesh with the bill he was propping up. In the current Real Clear Politics average, Rubio has dropped from first to fifth over the course of the year.
5. Ted Cruz (-1)
When Cruz was number 4 on the previous ranking, it was more a projection of where his momentum was headed as opposed to where he really was in polling. At the time, he wasn’t even an option in most polling. Cruz is hitting the grassroots circuit hard and the media is now fascinated in questions regarding his eligibility. Despite his ever-increasing profile, he still lags behind Rand Paul in momentum.
4. Paul Ryan (+2)
The former vice-presidential nominee is leading the effort on immigration reform for the House. Is Ryan okay with the Senate version as it currently is written? Will he manage to put actual teeth into the enforcement portions of the bill? Ryan could see a bump if he is able to make the immigration bill stronger and enforceable. If the bill mirrors the Senate version, he would likely get the blow-back currently being enjoyed by Rubio.
3. Jeb Bush (+2)
Like I keep saying: Americans love dynasties. If they didn’t, I’m not sure Jeb Bush would be on this list at all. Actually, I’m pretty confident he would not be. Yes, he was a pretty good governor of a very important state. But he has been out of the spotlight for several years, so his emergence in polling is a bit surprising. Education seems to be his big push. Is that enough to captivate voters? Bush finished a close third in a recent Rasmussen Reports poll and tied for second in a Public Policy Polling poll. And if you though Bush fatigue was a thing, he polled close to Hillary Clinton and was 4 points ahead of Joe Biden in the same PPP poll.
2. Chris Christie (unchanged)
Chris Christie remains the man to be the Republican candidate who is “most electable.” You know, Like John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Bob Dole. Bush and Ryan are his top opponents for this title. Christie is simply gifted in politics. He manages to bash Republicans and the tea party (including a verbal back-and-forth with Rand Paul), hang out with Democrats and shower them with love, publicly agree with moderate positions while maintaining a record that is actually quite conservative. So even though he says he believes in global warming to appease Democrats, for example, he then opposes any legislation to “combat” it on the grounds it would hurt the economy and probably wouldn’t be effective. Christie is good at having it both ways, and the voters (general election anyway) eat it up.
1. Rand Paul (+2)
Ron Paul was within a few points of winning Iowa in the 2012 Republican primary. Rand Paul is the younger, more eloquent, less spastic-seeming son who could probably even win it. He continues his aggressiveness against Hillary Clinton over Benghazi. This aggressiveness is welcome news for a base afraid their nominee will treat a potential Hillary nominee with kid gloves. He is leading the opposition on President Obama’s ever-growing list of foreign policy failures. His anti-big government presence is resonating with voters fearful of a government who rifles through IRS, phone, and internet records and punishes opponents politically.
Candidates rarely win both Iowa, the first caucus, and New Hampshire, the first primary, but Paul could very well do both. Though Christie seems a natural victor for New Hampshire, Paul has led in two New Hampshire polls and placed a close second in a third. He was the top pick in Iowa, He tied with Christie for first in the most recent Ohio primary poll, and he was first in conservative Louisiana (Christie well back in 4th). Paul’s strength is that he does well across the board, not just in conservative or moderate states.