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The GOP contenders



While the Democratic nomination is so far very much about one person – Hillary Clinton – the GOP contest is anything but. As Paul Koring reports, nearly all of the likely Republican candidates are political heavyweights with a real shot at the Oval Office

The Republican field vying for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination is as crowded and wide open as the Democratic lineup is scant and predictable.

With three already declared candidates, three more probables poised to enter and a pack of hopefuls, long shots and returning also-rans, the Republican race will be hard-fought, chaotic and compelling. This field includes unquestionable political heavyweights with potentially the broadest appeal of any GOP primary race since 2000. Several have compelling Hispanic links; there are experienced state governors and several senators.

The race will be crucial, not least because U.S. political history and the realities of a two-party political system make it more likely than not that the country’s next commander-in-chief will be a Republican after eight Democratic years with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House.

Only once since the Second World War has either party managed to hold the White House for three consecutive four-year terms, when George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988 after Ronald Reagan had been president for eight years.

The Republican 2016 nomination contest is truly a race unlike that of the Democrats, where the front-runner – and, so far, the only candidate – Hillary Clinton has a commanding and perhaps insurmountable lead in the polls, as well as public recognition, money and political operatives.

While Ms. Clinton could make history as the first female president (and the first presidential spouse to reach the Oval Office), the Republicans running represent a more conventional array of middle-aged male politicians.

JEB BUSH

The former Florida governor, as well as being the son of and brother to previous presidents, would become an instant front-runner – and preferred party establishment candidate – if he declares. But he would also face tough opposition from the party’s right wing, especially over his moderate views on immigration. In a presidential election, Americans might balk at the dynastic implications of a third Bush presidency in fewer than three decades. Should Jeb Bush win the White House, by 2020, the family will have controlled the presidency for 16 of the last 32 years.

The prospect of a Clinton-Bush race, a reprise of the 1992 campaign when Bill Clinton, the Arkansas governor regarded as a political upstart defeated then President George H.W. Bush’s bid for a second term, delights many with the prospect of America’s two most powerful political families jockeying again for power.

But Jeb Bush is more than just the family’s next standard-bearer. He has a solid track record as a two-term governor and holds genuine appeal to Hispanics, the largest and most politically important American minority in terms of swing votes. (He speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a Latina.)

TED CRUZ

Darling of the Tea Party and a major thorn under the saddle of the Republican Party establishment, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas offers a savvy blend of conservative orthodoxy and fiery maverick. His personal story is compelling: The son of a Cuban freedom fighter and an American mother, he was born in Canada, raised in Texas and educated at Princeton and Harvard. Although far apart on the political spectrum from the current President, Mr. Cruz’s intellectual brilliance, his foreign father and his capacity to inspire have led some to dub him the “Republican Party’s Barack Obama.” Mr. Cruz quickly emerged as an accomplished orator in the Senate and a polarizing national figure. He has led Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. Like Mr. Bush and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, he has strong views and considerable credibility among Hispanics on immigration, the issue that may emerge as a pivotal one both in the Republican primaries and in the 2016 presidential election.

CHRIS CHRISTIE

New Jersey’s big, brash governor, best remembered for the image of him hugging President Obama as the two grappled with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, has a proven ability to win tough elections and appeal across party lines. But Mr. Christie is no stranger to political controversy, including the damaging scandal involving members of his inner circle creating massive traffic jams in retaliation against a political adversary. Undeclared as yet, Mr. Christie is in the middle of a “Tell it like it is” tour of New Hampshire, holding town-hall meetings across the state which, like Iowa, holds crucial early votes. The New Jersey Governor has also sought to burnish his limited foreign-policy record. He made a multistop visit to Canada last December where he extolled the Keystone XL pipeline and called for better bilateral relations. That was followed by a trade mission to London in February.

RAND PAUL

Once a Libertarian, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has proved far less dogmatic than his father, Ron. Seeking to broaden his appeal without losing his hard-core supporters, Rand Paul now says: “I’m libertarian-ish, which means I have some libertarian impulses.” Similarly, he has rejected claims he is isolationist on foreign policy and now describes his position as “non-interventionist” or “conservative realist.” Still, Mr. Paul has avoided the doctrinaire libertarian stance that made his father a favourite with purists when he sought the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012. The younger Mr. Paul has attempted to broaden his appeal beyond the Tea Party faithful, to moderate Republicans. Still, his campaign slogan “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream” well represents his anti-establishment stance.

MARCO RUBIO

Another rising star in the Republican Party, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, brings the same sort of centrist politics coupled with an appeal to Hispanics as Mr. Bush. In fact, some pundits expected Mr. Rubio might sit out 2016 if his mentor entered the race. Instead, Mr. Rubio has jumped in before Mr. Bush saying he is “uniquely qualified” to be president. With both men from Florida, Mr. Rubio’s best chance of building support may be if Mr. Bush fails to consolidate the centre-right or falters in early primaries. The two are close friends although Mr. Rubio is a generation younger; this could prove an advantage to those who regard Mr. Bush as part of Ms. Clinton’s political generation. Mr. Rubio has pointedly articulated that Republicans must stop depending on a declining demographic – white males – and make real inroads among Hispanics before they can win the 2016 presidential election.

SCOTT WALKER

After winning the governor’s race in swing state Wisconsin in 2010, Scott Walker attracted national attention by waging a tough fight with the state’s public-service unions. Outraged Democrats and organized labour forced a recall vote in 2012. Re-elected in 2014, Mr. Walker likes to compare his triumph over unions with Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air-traffic controllers in 1981. Some polls show the undeclared Mr. Walker ahead of all his Republicans rivals in early primary states. But Mr. Walker is also prone to gaffes. In February, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he told delegates he was well-suited to be commander-in-chief in the fight against Islamic jihadists because he had faced down the might of Wisconsin’s public-labour unions. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Governor Walker said. Despite having no formal ties to the Tea Party, Mr. Walker polls strongly among registered Republicans who identify with it.

OTHERS

Beyond the declared and expected heavyweights, there are more than a dozen potential Republican hopefuls, some of whom have taken preliminary steps such as forming political action committees or exploratory committees.

There is considerable diversity in this group.

Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, and a rare woman among top U.S. corporate players, would offer a distinct alternative to the crowd of male politicos currently dominating the field. Ms. Fiorina failed in her first major political bid – a run in California for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012 where she was beaten handily by incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. Ms. Fiorina said she intends to launch her presidential campaign on May 4.

Several other Republican governors and former governors consistently get mentioned as having presidential aspirations. They include Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and the son of immigrants from India; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who also ran in 2008; and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who ran in 2012 and famously forgot which government departments he had vowed to axe.

On the fringes are several others: Donald Trump, the publicity-loving billionaire and property magnate who questioned Mr. Obama’s citizenship and offered a $5-million (U.S.) bounty for the release of his passport and college records; Jack Fellure, a perennial candidate who has already declared and formerly ran the Prohibition Party; and John Bolton, the hawkish, right-wing former ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.

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