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That was then and this is now

| Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A large Republican presidential field is shaping up with candidates from all corners of the political right vying for the chance to face off against the established Democratic candidate. Ah, 2012! At first glance, there are many similarities between the presidential race four years ago and the one shaping up now. Republicans will field a wide set of candidates who will compete for different factions of the party, including the “conservative” and “establishment” wings. The Democratic candidate will not be a sitting president, but there are few people who enter American politics with more name recognition than Hillary Clinton. Her role as “incumbent” is taken for granted, even as some legitimate Democratic candidates may soon announce. The parallels between 2012 and 2016 seem credible on the surface, but if we look deeper into the race we find a different playing field on both sides of the aisle. The 2016 election will surely repeat some of the same policy talking points that have been around for decades. However, this election will be fought on new ground and by new players.

On the right of the political spectrum, the variety of candidates remains the same, but the quality is arguably improved. The success of governors from both parties in primary and general elections (Carter, Clinton, Reagan, Bush and Romney) gives a basis to compare the two election cycles. In 2012, the only governors that contended for the Republican nomination were Romney (MA) and Perry (TX). The 2016 field could see as many as six former governors in the race, with Perry possibly making another run, as well as Bush (FL), Walker (WI), Christie (NJ), Jindal (LA) and Huckabee (AR), who also ran in 2008. In addition to the glut of governors tossing their hats into the ring, the Republican field will also benefit from the lessons learned during the failed Romney campaign. Particularly in regards to projecting voter turnout, which the GOP miscalculated by so much that Romney hadn’t even written a concession speech before election night in 2012.

Democrats will obviously partake in a different process now versus four years ago, but the number of potential candidates — a number that could realistically challenge Clinton for the nomination — is small. The differences the left will face this election will have to do with obstacles that were not in the way for President Obama in 2012. Most obviously, Clinton has not already won a presidential election by historic margins, having lost a tight primary race in 2008 to the president. Her inability to defeat the upstart junior senator in 2008 should raise concerns for Democrats about Clinton’s ability to fend off a strong Republican challenger, eager to get back in the White House after eight years in the cold. Clinton’s electoral success also will hinge on her ability to hold together a Democratic coalition she did not shape. She will face headwinds concerning her age, wealth and deep ties to Wall Street.

Beyond the parties, Americans are looking at a very different world than they were in 2012. The economy is better (excluding the most recent job numbers) and many voters may be more interested in how the next president will respond to situations occurring outside of the United States’ borders. Russia has forcefully changed the map in Eastern Europe. The nuclear deal with Iran has polarized the country, and the passage of Trans-Pacific Partnership could create seismic changes in the United States economy. Finally, a united Congress poses challenges and opportunities for both parties. Republicans may boast about all they can get done with a united government, but Democrats will have even more reason to go to the polls come November.

The 2016 presidential race is hardly beginning, but with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul already declared, it will be the top story for much of the next 19 months. As more candidates come forward and the money begins to flow, there will be new lessons to learn and old myths to shatter. Republicans will again be hungry for a win against a figurative incumbent. This time, however, both sides will be coping with a much different landscape than when President Obama earned his second four years.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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