Democratic politicos test water as buzz for 2016 builds
Most Democrats tell you it's too soon to start talking about it. Their focus, they say, has to be entirely on re-electing President Obama. But as they gathered in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, the truth is that some have begun jockeying for position to run for the presidential nomination in 2016.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Most Democrats tell you it's too soon to start talking about it. Their focus, they say, has to be entirely on re-electing President Obama.
But as they gathered in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, the truth is that some of them have begun jockeying to run for the presidential nomination in 2016. The speculation has started, too.
Will Vice President Joseph Biden run? What about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton?
Is there an unknown star in the speaking schedule waiting to burst onto the national stage and into a campaign, as Barack Obama did as a Senate candidate giving the convention keynote speech in 2004? What about the senators who are visiting breakfasts with delegations from early caucus and primary states?
The reason for the speculation is that Democrats assume Obama will win a second term and be ineligible to run again in 2016.
The unspoken alternative is that he will lose. But that would take him out of the running in 2016, too.
"I think it is way too early to have this conversation," said Mo Elleithee, a national political consultant and spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.
"A week before the Democratic convention in 2004, most people had never even heard of Barack Obama. There's so much that can be changed between now and then."
True, said Jim Williams, a polling analyst with Public Policy Polling, Democratic-leaning pollsters based in North Carolina. But that hasn't stopped the firm from asking potential primary and caucus-goers in New Hampshire and Iowa about whom they like for 2016. It's "just for fun," Williams said, "just to see where people's heads are."
Hillary Clinton: Her "turn"?
Potential Democratic voters overwhelmingly lean toward Clinton, Williams said. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed in mid-August in New Hampshire preferred the former first lady. Nine percent liked the prospect of Biden as the nominee in four years.
It "might be instructive" that Clinton has such a dominant lead, Williams said. "There's a deep sense that it's her turn if she chooses to run."
"Win or lose — and I do think the president will prevail — the front-runners certainly have to be Secretary Clinton and Joe Biden," said Robin Rorapaugh, a political consultant based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who advised the Obama campaign in 2008.
If they have the right of first refusal — which is open to question in a party prone to first-time candidates — does either even want it?
Neither Clinton nor Biden has said they do, although there have been suggestions that Obama dump his gaffe-prone vice president and replace him with Clinton this time.
Age, though, might be the biggest reason for the two to decline another bid for the White House. Clinton would be 69 on Inauguration Day 2017, and Biden would be 73.
A younger generation
Plenty of younger potential contenders are emerging, although with Clinton and Biden out of the mix, Williams said, Public Policy Polling's surveys show "kind of a jumble," led primarily by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
Cuomo, 54, has sky-high approval ratings even among Republicans in his own state, and he made friends among progressive Democrats for his support of same-sex marriage in New York. Cuomo, who spoke at the 2000 and 2008 Democratic conventions, is avoiding the national spotlight and keeping a low profile at this convention.
New York voters gave him a 73 percent approval rating in a July poll by Quinnipiac University. The same survey, though, found that New Yorkers want him to stay in Albany. They prefer Clinton, their former senator, as president over Cuomo, Quinnipiac found.
His father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, has floated the idea of a White House bid for his son.
But New Yorkers "clearly aren't ready to talk yet about Andrew Cuomo and the White House in the same breath," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said last month.
Several potential candidates are visiting convention delegations this week from states, such as Iowa and South Carolina, that vote early in the nominating process.
They include Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, 52, and Mark Warner of Virginia, 57; and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, 49. O'Malley is using his seat as the head of the Democratic Governors Association to make fundraising and political contacts.
Other governors barely register among New Hampshire and Iowa voters, including one of the standouts from the 2008 convention: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, 56. He, too, visited the South Carolina, Arizona and Iowa convention delegations.
Look to statehouses for future contenders, political watchers advised: "A lot of those names are governors," said Rorapaugh, the political consultant.
"We have been a party that traditionally looks to our governors for new faces and fresh leadership."
One other on the list: U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 63, a darling of the left who's battling Republican Sen. Scott Brown, 52, for the seat held formerly by Sen. Edward Kennedy. First, she has to win the Senate seat, though.
Another woman who's getting plenty of mention among convention-goers: Clinton's fellow New Yorker, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, 45, who has been leading a national initiative aimed at getting more women involved in politics.
The breakfast club
This politicking for the future is going on far away from the gleaming downtown arena where Democrats are staging their national convention: a steamy tent in the parking lot of a suburban hotel. In it, the 63 delegates from Iowa have been playing host to a rotating cast of possible presidential hopefuls who are trying to forge early ties to the activists who, four years from now, could help propel one of them to the White House.
"I can see Iowa from my porch!" Klobuchar quipped as she began her breakfast speech Wednesday. With that not-so-subtle dig at former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Klobuchar had the Iowa delegation in stitches, perfectly prepped for the I'm-just-like-you pitch.
O'Malley, the Maryland governor, reminded Iowans that he lived in Davenport for two months and traveled the state — "all 99 counties," he said — as a field staffer for Gary Hart's 1988 presidential campaign. O'Malley is scheduled to travel to Iowa next month to headline Sen. Tom Harkin's annual fundraising steak fry.
On Monday morning, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, 43, gave a stemwinder of a speech that brought tears to some eyes as he quoted Langston Hughes' poetry and broke a little news.
Booker revealed that his 94-year-old grandmother was an Iowan — who knew? — born in Des Moines and later from Buxton, a mining town where many black families settled.
Warner, the Virginia senator, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also cycled through, while Schweitzer and Gillibrand were scheduled to address the group at Thursday's breakfast outside the TownePlace Suites, where the Iowa delegation is staying.
Some hoped to make a splash with their convention speeches, mindful of how Obama used his 2004 keynote address to catapult to prominence in the party.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro delivered the keynote address Tuesday, whipping up the crowd by vouching for Obama and lacing into the president's Republican rival. Castro, 37, the first Hispanic chosen to deliver a keynote address, ripped into the Republican ticket's economic policies.
"First they called it trickle down, the supply side," Castro said. "Now it's Romney/Ryan. Or is it Ryan/Romney?"
Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included.