Sabato's Crystal Ball

Notes on the State of Politics

U.Va. Center for Politics May 9th, 2013

2016 Presidential Update: The newest shiny object

Last week, intense speculation centered on freshman Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) possible presidential aspirations. The revelation has prompted all sorts of reactions, including a positive one from the unlikeliest of sources. While some have asked questions about his constitutional eligibility to run for the highest office in the land, Cruz’s strong conservative appeal could very well make him a force in the next presidential race. For that reason, he deserves a place on our list of 2016 GOP hopefuls, though he starts near the bottom.

In some ways, the rise of someone like Cruz into the Republican presidential discussion is unsurprising. Cruz is the newest shiny object for Tea Party members and constitutional conservatives in the GOP, supplementing those who prefer Rand Paul or Marco Rubio (though the shine is off Rubio because he favors immigration reform). It is a reminder that in the next three years, even newer, shinier objects may come to the fore. For example, if Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) wins the state’s governorship this November, it is an easy prediction that he will consider a presidential run, with strong backing from his intense supporters. Barack Obama’s promotion to the presidency after less than four years in the U.S. Senate has seemingly lifted all prohibitions on inexperienced politicians launching a White House bid.

Also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the biggest — or smallest? — political story of the week: Gov Chris Christie’s (R-NJ) lap-band surgery. In all seriousness, his explanation for the weight-reducing procedure — he wants to improve his health for the sake of his family — is totally reasonable, but it’s impossible not to interpret the decision as just another indication he’s pointing to a future run.

In response to questions about a potential presidential run way back in 2005, then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) joked that, “Well, I could lose 50 pounds. I might even grow 4 inches. You never know.” So we guess if Christie gets some stilts he’ll really be serious.

Chart 1: Updated Crystal Ball 2016 Republican presidential watch list

First Tier
Candidate Key Advantages Key Disadvantages
Scott Walker
Governor, WI
•Midwest GOP gov. in Obama state
•Heroic conservative credentials
•Shown political durability

•Too bland? Next Pawlenty?
•Might not deliver home state
•Would highly motivate left/labor

Marco Rubio
Senator, FL
•Hispanic
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•From most electorally valuable swing state
•Future tough votes in Senate; has and will have federal record
•Vetting issues regarding family
•Could he really deliver more Hispanic votes?

The Future
Chris Christie
Governor, NJ
•Dynamic speaker
•Shown ability to pursue conservative agenda in Blue state
•Less is more — the future slogan of a svelte Chris Christie?
•Superstorm Sandy fallout
•Not conservative enough for base?
•Loose cannon
Second Tier
Rand Paul
Senator, KY
•Tea Party favorite
•Strong support from libertarian GOP wing
•National ID and fundraising network
•Too libertarian?
•Association with out-of-mainstream father
•Too dovish/eclectic for GOP tastes?
Bobby Jindal
Governor, LA
•Brings diversity
•Southerner in Southern party
•Extensive state/fed. experience
•Controversial governorship
•Not nationally vetted
•Not a dynamic speaker
Third Tier
Rick Santorum
Fmr. Senator, PA
•Strong support from social conservatives
•2nd place finisher in ’12 – next in line?
•Bring around primary track
•Too conservative for general election?
•Lost last Senate race by 17%
•Foot-in-mouth troubles
Paul Ryan
Representative, WI
•2012 VP candidate – next in line?
•General election experience
•Strong conservative record
•May not want to run
•Couldn’t help Romney carry WI
•Not a dynamic campaigner
Ted Cruz
Senator, TX
•Tea Party favorite
•Texas fundraising
•Conservative voting record
•Too extreme?
•Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
•Eligibility questions
Rick Perry
Governor, TX
•Strong conservative credentials
•Texas fundraising
•Extensive executive experience
•May lose ’14 TX GOP gubernatorial primary
•Ran very poor 2012 race
•”Oops,” we forgot the rest
Wild Card?
John Kasich
Governor, OH
•Swing state
•Long conservative record
•Ohio’s unemployment below national average
•Supports Medicaid expansion
•Legislative resistance to budget
•Abrasive personality

Senate update: Lots of news, but little change

Dominoes continue to fall in the Senate, but what effect do they have on the overall picture? Here’s a quick look:

Alaska: Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is unsurprisingly running for reelection, leaving Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) as the leading challenger to Sen. Mark Begich (D). Parnell was probably the strongest potential opponent for Begich, although Treadwell, assuming he wins the primary, will probably be a decent challenger too, if only because of Alaska’s strong Republican leanings. As one local observer notes, though, nobody knows how Alaskans will react to the $10 million to $15 million of outside spending that probably will be targeted against Begich. “It’s never been done here before,” he said. This race remains a TOSS-UP.

Georgia: Conservative Democratic Rep. John Barrow is not going to run here, robbing Democrats of a potentially strong candidate. Former Sen. Sam Nunn’s (D) daughter, Michelle, remains a possibility, but the competitiveness of this race is probably going to be decided in the Republican primary, where a number of sitting congressmen are competing for the nomination. Pick the wrong one, and Democrats could still pull off a monumental upset. So we’re holding off on calling this one “safe” for the Republicans and sticking with LIKELY REPUBLICAN.

Iowa: Republicans are having more recruiting problems in the Hawkeye State: Not only is Rep. Steve King (R) not running, but neither is Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) or state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey (R). Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register has a list of the other potential candidates looking to challenge Democratic frontrunner Rep. Bruce Braley (D), but things aren’t really breaking right for the Republicans here. Still LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

Massachusetts: In the wake of their respective victories in last week’s special election primary, Rep. Ed Markey (D) and Gabriel Gomez (R) are relatively close in recent polling. We still think Markey has an edge in the race, which will be decided June 25, because of Massachusetts’ strong Democratic leanings, but we’re keeping a close eye on the contest, and there may be a reason to give it a more competitive rating depending on the state of the race and the national mood. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC, for now.

So this is a long way of saying that despite all the news, we’re not changing any of our ratings for the time being. To see a map of the current state of the Senate and our full ratings, click here.