Yes, we know: We just had an election. But some of the contenders for the 2016 race - one that will not have an incumbent president in the mix, which likely means hard-fought primary battles for both major parties - are already positioning themselves for a run four years from now. Have a look at which Republicans are generating the early buzz by clicking the "next" button on the upper right. (Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the Democratic side.)
If you had to pick an early favorite for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination - and we've still got a lot way to go - you very well could go with the first-term Florida senator and former Florida House Speaker. A politically-savvy Tea Party favorite who offered a well-received keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, the Cuban-American Rubio has been cited as the GOP's best chance to connect with the fast-growing Latino voting bloc that broke overwhelmingly against Mitt Romney earlier this month.
Rubio unofficially kicked off the 2016 campaign this past weekend when he traveled to Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state, for a birthday fundraiser for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. Rubio has been circulating a draft immigration reform bill that party leaders hope will help bring Latinos and young voters into the GOP fold without alienating the party's older, rural, white voter base. For the most part, however, Rubio argues that the GOP can win without altering its basic positions: He echoes Romney's support for lower taxes and reduced regulations but says that the GOP outlook can be articulated in a way that better connects with minority groups and the middle class.
Rubio's political savvy can be seen in a response he gave to GQ when asked the age of the Earth. "I'm not a scientist, man," he responded, before going on to say that "there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says." It was an answer that left the door open to the creationist beliefs of many highly-religious voters without completely alienating those who ground their views in science.
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The Wisconsin representative may have fallen short of the vice presidency in 2012, but his run gave the once-little known House Budget Committee chairman national name recognition. And he certainly seems open to leveraging it in a run for the Oval Office four years from now. Check out this paragraph from a story on Ryan in Monday's New York Times: "Contrary to his fear that a campaign would wear him down, aides said, Mr. Ryan was invigorated by the race. He particularly enjoyed his time spent in Iowa, where his wife, Janna, visited her grandmother's home for the first time in many years." It's quite the, ahem, coincidence that the one state his aides say he "particularly enjoyed" spending time is one that plays a central role in the nominating process.
In his role as Budget Committee chair, Ryan will be a major player in negotiations over avoiding the "fiscal cliff" and other policy debates with the Obama administration over the next four years. With Romney seemingly poised to exit the national stage, the self-proclaimed policy wonk is arguably the leading spokesman for the GOP's governing agenda. And he showed in the 2012 campaign that his advocacy for dramatic cuts to entitlement programs was not necessarily the electoral albatross that some Republicans feared.
It doesn't help Ryan, however, that he is a white male who could be seeking the nomination during a period when his party is desperately trying to improve its standing with female and minority voters. And the fact that he is a longtime Washington insider with little executive experience could open him up to charges that he lacks the experience necessary to run the country.
The former Florida governor is a white guy too, of course. But the Spanish-speaking Bush, whose wife Columba was born in Mexico, has close ties to the Latino community. And he has long been pushing for his party to "stop acting stupid" and moderate its tone and hard line on immigration. "You have to deal with this issue," he told CBS News' Charlie Rose earlier this year, arguing for a path to citizenship or residency that he said "does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives."
That's not the only area where the center-right Bush has broken with his party - he has also taken aim at the anti-compromise posture most associated with the Tea Party. Bush suggested in June that because they were willing to accommodate and seek common ground, both his father George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan would have had a "hard time" fitting into the modern GOP. He also broke with his party's staunch opposition to raising tax rates, saying that he would have supported a hypothetical deal which included ten dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in additional revenue. In an August 2011 Republican primary debate, every GOP candidate said he or she would not have taken the deal.
Bush's last name had been expected to be something of a liability had he entered the 2012 race: His older brother left office just four years ago, and George W.'s post-presidency approval ratings remain low. Bush would also have had to answer uncomfortable questions about his brother's legacy. But by 2016, those questions, along with "Bush fatigue," are likely to have faded, and Americans may be willing to seriously consider another Bush in the Oval Office. One big question: Could Bush's brand of relatively moderate conservatism survive a GOP primary process that in recent years has prompted candidates to move to the right?
The 40-year-old, Indian-American governor of South Carolina is an unflinching conservative with Tea Party support who also just happens to be a woman and a minority - a combination that has helped her rise to national prominence since she won the governorship in 2010.
Like Marco Rubio, Haley largely sticks to the GOP orthodoxy of lower taxes and less regulation. Unlike Rubio, she has also stuck with the conservative wing of the GOP on immigration: She signed into law an anti-immigration bill that drew comparisons to the controversial Arizona legislation that set off a national debate. That could hurt her with the Latino voters who the GOP is now trying to win over after Romney's poor showing among the group earlier this month.
Haley faces a reelection battle in 2014, and she's no sure thing: Polls this year have found her approval rating to be below 40 percent, and some in her state complain she has focused more on promoting herself on the national stage than benefiting the state GOP. But Haley's prolific fundraising abilities will give her a big boost in that contest, and the she could prove a formidable contender if she survives and decides to enter the 2016 race during her second term as governor.
On paper, Chris Christie is all wrong for the GOP: The New Jersey governor's moderate views on social issues don't play well with the party's longtime base, and the fact that he is a white male doesn't help at a time when the party is trying to reach female and minority voters. Yet Christie brings to the table something most in his party do not: An everyman appeal that has allowed him to thrive in a blue state. There are not a lot of Republicans who could offer up a natural, winning performance on "Saturday Night Live," but Christie pulled off that feat with apparent ease last weekend despite the political risk that came with appearing on a comedy show while his state is still recovering from a natural disaster.
What's not clear is whether Christie, who likes to speak off the cuff, is disciplined enough to survive a presidential campaign process in which every comment is scrutinized as a potential gaffe. And it's far from certain that conservative voters drawn to Christie's style will be willing to overlook his moderate views on issues like climate change and gun control.
Other notable names
Thanks to his stronger-than-expected 2012 run, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has become the de facto leader of the still-sizeable social conservative wing of the GOP, and he would likely enter the 2016 race with a sizable base of support. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee could also quickly consolidate social conservative support if he entered the race. Both candidates, however, are not well positioned for an election in which the GOP will be looking to move beyond its traditional base.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has built up plenty of allies as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), and his military credentials and reputation for pragmatic conservatism could help him break out of what is likely to be a crowded field. Less helpful at a time that the GOP is seeking to close the gap with female voters is a 1989 thesis he authored calling working women and feminists "detrimental" to the family and his onetime support for vaginal probes for women seeking an abortion.
Louisiana's 41-year-old, Indian-American Gov. Bobby Jindal has built a reputation for competence while maintaining a solidly conservative record during his nearly five years in office. He has already positioned himself as a candidate to take the GOP into the future without abandoning its longstanding positions, distancing himself from Romney's claims that Mr. Obama won reelection by giving "gifts" to key constituencies and arguing that "If we want people to like us, we have to like them first."
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has maintained many of the same libertarian positions as his father, outgoing Rep. Ron Paul, while forging a closer relationship with the mainstream GOP. While Paul's advocacy for a smaller U.S. military footprint and less government involvement in American lives plays attracts young voters who have traditionally not been drawn to the GOP, it's not clear that he could expand his father's small but passionate base of support enough to make a serious run at the nomination.
Others in the discussion include South Dakota Sen. John Thune, whose presidential mien and fundraising prowess make him a contender, Ohio senator and former Bush administration official Rob Portman, and incoming Indiana governor and six-term congressman Mike Pence, a Tea Party-aligned Christian conservative. And despite his poor showing in the 2012 race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a powerful fundraiser with a strong southern base, has not ruled out a run four years from now.