Decision Time for GOP Contenders and Pretenders
Policy + Politics

Decision Time for GOP Contenders and Pretenders

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman barely caused a ripple in the political world with his announcement Tuesday morning that he won’t seek the 2016 GOP presidential. 

“I don't think I can run for president and be an effective senator at the same time,” Portman said in a statement. “While I appreciate the encouragement I have received from many to run for president, my focus will remain on Ohio and running for re-election to the Senate in 2016.”

Related: Romney Tops the List of 2016 GOP Presidential Hopefuls    

By going public with his decision now – barely a month after Republicans swept to victory in the November midterms – he signaled it’s close to “crunch time” for many other politicians pondering a White House bid.   

Portman was one of nearly 20 Republican senators, governors and former governors who have been mentioned in the presidential sweepstakes. A former White House budget director and U.S. trade representative during the George W. Bush administration, Portman, 58, had been viewed as a potential presidential contender ever since he made it onto Mitt Romney’s short list for a vice presidential running mate  in 2012.

“All candidates are equal, but some are more equal than others,” said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist with the University of Virginia. “The lesser-known contenders and the longshots probably need to have announced yesterday--and certainly early in the New Year. We are only 14 months from the starting gun in Iowa, and they have to raise tens of millions and set up a massive organizational apparatus from DC to the grassroots. “ 

Had he decided to run for president, Portman would have been the first supporter of gay marriage among GOP presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, former Florida governor Jeb Bush signaled he was moving close to a decision as he spelled out a possible campaign blueprint during an appearance before The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting on Monday. The scion of a famous political family outlined a handful of key priorities, including an “all-in” energy policy to greatly expand the use of this country’s natural resources, a reduction in government red tape for businesses, major reform of the tax code, an economically driven overhaul of immigration policy and a radical transformation of the education system. 

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“I kinda know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else – and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be, ‘Lose the primary to win the general’ without violating your principles,” Bush said in his free-wheeling ruminations on presidential politics. “It’s not an easy task, to be honest with you.” 

Bush told The Journal’s Gerald Seib that the central question he must answer before he decides whether to run is: “Do I have the skills to do it in a way that lifts people’s spirits and not get sucked into the vortex?” 

Despite his insistence he will not run a third time for president, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and businessman, leads the massive field of GOP presidential aspirants in a survey by Quinnipiac University released last week. The survey, as previously reported here, showed 19 percent of Republican voters say they would like to see Romney run again for the White House in 2016, despite his loss to President Obama in 2012. Romney was followed by Jeb Bush, at 11 percent support, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Dr. Ben Carson, who both attracted eight percent support.

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In hypothetical matchups in the poll, Romney runs best against Hillary Clinton, the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, taking 45 percent of the overall vote to 44 percent for Clinton. The former secretary of state and First Lady holds a slight one-point lead over Christie in a matchup, and she would beat Bush by a margin of 46 percent to 41 percent. 

Clinton has spent the past year positioning herself for a second campaign for the White House. On the speaking circuit, she has picked up $200,000 or more per appearance. A handful of Democrats or independents – including Vice President Joe Biden, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – are all exploring presidential prospects.

“Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney if he runs . . . can't dawdle beyond April or so, but they can pull it all together much more quickly than other candidates,” noted Sabato. “In fact, they already have shadow organizations and vast networks of donors that can be activated. If we could go behind the scenes and see what Clinton and Bush are doing now, we'd probably find that a large portion of their time is already devoted to 2016.” 

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