The chief political strategist of the research firm Potomac Research Group released a new handicapping of the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest on Tuesday morning, and he had a somewhat surprising front-runner: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Though Rubio hasn’t been generating as many headlines as many of his competitors, the strategist, Greg Valliere, argued he uniquely benefited from the 2014 Republican landslide.
“He flew beneath the radar screen this fall, but actually Rubio campaigned aggressively for GOP candidates,” Valliere said. “He has a head start on putting together a campaign organisation, and has shown increasing gravitas on key issues; he’s the anti-Rand Paul on geopolitics.”
Valliere cautioned, however, that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could complicate Rubio’s plans as they are from the same state.
“If Jeb runs, Rubio may demur; if Jeb doesn’t run, Rubio will be the nominee of a party that desperately needs to expand its voter base in presidential elections,” Valliere said. “Rubio can expand the base, even more than Rand Paul.”
Read the full ranking below:
10. Dr. Ben Carson (previously NR): He won’t be the nominee, but the retired African-American surgeon will shake things up in the early primaries. He’s fiercely conservative and anti-Obama, and the right wing base loves him. Haven’t heard of Dr. Ben Carson? You will.
9. Mitt Romney (previously 5): His late summer boomlet has fizzled a bit, largely because Romney has sought to dampen speculation. But he collected a lot of IOUs during the fall campaign, and still could be a major player if Jeb Bush doesn’t run.
8. Ted Cruz (previously 4): His smash-mouth style has been rejected by the party’s pragmatists, but Cruz can’t be ruled out — he has strong support in the base, which takes its cues from talk radio. He’s got major downsides: he wasn’t particularly visible during the election, he’s despised by the party’s leadership, and there’s that Calgary thing.
7. John Kasich (previously NR): Our dark horse as the year began, and our dark horse now. Kasich won re-election by a landslide, and probably will run. A complicated man with a terrific track record, Kasich may be too moderate for the base, but he has energy and sizzle — he’s not as blunt as Chris Christie but he’s edgy enough.
6. Paul Ryan (previously 7): He’s got plenty on his plate now, as tax reform becomes a pivotal GOP issue, but Ryan strikes us as restless, not willing to commit to another decade in the House of Representatives. He’s always been a man in a hurry, and if the GOP field looks gridlocked, we think Ryan will enter the race late and become a major factor.
5. Scott Walker (previously 9): He won a tough re-election fight in Wisconsin and now seems virtually certain to run. So he didn’t finish college? Neither did Bill Gates. Harry Truman never even went to college. Walker isn’t afraid to take on the unions, a stance the voters liked this fall in race after race, from Rhode Island to Illinois.
4. Chris Christie (previously 6): Perhaps the biggest winner this fall, Christie is this cycle’s Comeback Kid. He worked tirelessly — and successfully — for GOP candidates, and it appears that prosecutors will exonerate Christie in the GW bridge fiasco. The downside: he’s crude and rude, and by the way — New Jersey’s finances are a mess.
3. Rand Paul (previously 3): It still looks like Paul will be in the final three. He’s methodically getting his campaign together, and is softening his outsider image — suddenly he’s not quite as isolationist, and he has won an early endorsement from Mitch McConnell. Paul is very impressive on the talk shows (he never misses an opportunity to skewer Hillary Clinton) and he retains most of his father’s passionate base. Paul is still under-rated.
2. Jeb Bush (previously 1): He’s the clear pick inside the Beltway, but we think Jeb is over-rated. He hasn’t been in the trenches for nearly a decade, and he’s rusty. More importantly, the GOP base dislikes his stances on immigration, the Common Core education policy and taxes. He’s bright and likable and has a plausible path to 270 electoral votes, but winning the nomination may be more difficult than he thinks.
1. Marco Rubio (previously 2): He flew beneath the radar screen this fall, but actually Rubio campaigned aggressively for GOP candidates. He has a head start on putting together a campaign organisation, and has shown increasing gravitas on key issues; he’s the anti-Rand Paul on geopolitics. If Jeb runs, Rubio may demur; if Jeb doesn’t run, Rubio will be the nominee of a party that desperately needs to expand its voter base in presidential elections. Rubio can expand the base, even more than Rand Paul.
Not quite in the Top Ten: We haven’t heard much lately from Mike Pence (previously 10) or Rick Santorum (previously 8), but they both probably will run . . . and Mike Huckabee could be in the mix for Christian conservatives . . . Rick Perry may be the first to announce . . . if Bobby Jindal doesn’t first . . . Sen. Rob Portman, itching to run, impresses everyone who knows him.
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