Mark Casci: Republicans set out on long road to the White House

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By this time next year we will have a very clear picture of who the main runners and riders will be in the race to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States.

Twelve months from now the votes will have been cast in the New Hampshire primary for the Republican Party, the first meaningful stage in determining the party’s nominee.

The next year will be a blizzard of fundraising, backroom negotiations and hubris as the Grand Old Party begins the process of deciding who is best placed to take on the unenviable challenge of not just ending eight years of Democratic rule but the political career of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Fifty-two weeks out, the Republican field is wide open. So who can we expect to see in the frame?

As has been the case for so many election campaigns in the past three decades, a member of the Bush family tops the list. While much of the world may roll their eyes in dismay, the prospect of former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, son of George HW and younger brother of George W, running for the White House is one that many on the American right would rub their hands together with glee at.

With thorny matters such as immigration reform likely to be at the core of his campaign, and his family’s formidable fundraising ability, he is seen by many as the only candidate to have the cross-over appeal to pull in sufficient swing voters.

Persuading voters he will not represent a continuation of his brother’s toxic foreign policy legacy will remain his biggest challenge.

Had this piece been written in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s 2012 victory I would have placed current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the top of the list. He won much bipartisan appeal for his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. However, his name was significantly tarnished by the so-called Bridgegate scandal, that saw accusations of the George Washington Bridge being deliberately closed in order to punish a local mayor for failing to back his re-election race.

An investigation cleared Christie but many of his closest aides had to resign as a result.

Another familiar name is that of Mitt Romney, nominee in 2012 and runner-up to Obama. The old F Scott Fitzgerald adage of there being no second acts in American life has proved inapplicable to politics, given the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 following defeat in 1960. However it seems unlikely that Romney will be able to shake off the loser tag.

The two wildcard entries are fascinating. Marco Rubio has been compared to a college athlete who turns pro after his first season. He is one of the most naturally gifted campaigners in American politics since Obama and has been called the “crown prince” of the Tea Party movement. A fiscal conservative and the son of Cuban immigrants, he can reach the right-wing of the party while appealing to Latino factions across the nation.

His stubborn insistence that climate change is not a man-made phenomenon will limit his appeal but Rubio has long been seen as the party’s rising star and, aged just 43, he is certainly not going anywhere soon.

The other name that will not go away is Rand Paul. To say Rand Paul wants to rip it up and start again is not far off the mark. He advocates balancing the budget at all costs, and though he would ban abortion under any circumstances, he remains the most staunchly libertarian candidate in modern history,

A darling of college campuses, he is the closest of any of the candidates, Republican or Democrat, to securing the ever elusive “youth vote”. He could certainly find himself a vice-presidential candidate, if not the nominee himself.

And who can they expect to face if they get the nomination? Hillary Clinton has yet to formally announce her candidacy but is seen as the odds-on favourite to be the Democrat nominee. Adored by the party faithful and a master of winning the female vote, it took the juggernaut of Obama’s campaigning to stop her in 2008.

Her willingness to serve in his administration has preserved her standing and the prospect of a female president is not the hard sell it once was. However, there could be a stalking horse on the horizon. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator, is quickly finding legions of ardent fans for her progressive, liberal dogma.

What strikes the observer about the whole field is the variety of positions and values the candidates possess. When compared with those standing in our own General Election, it’s palpable. Say what you will about the contentious and zany positions of Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, David Cameron and Ed Miliband stand for little more than becoming Prime Minister at the expense of the other.

One cannot help but wonder if conviction politics are now the preserve of our cousins across the Pond.