1. Hillary Clinton – soon-to-be-former Secretary of State
Why: She came within an inch of the nomination in 2008, her husband’s image has gone from good to better and all polls show that if she wants the party nod, it’s hers for the taking. Her record as secretary is viewed positively by a solid majority of Americans, and her 2008 campaign gave her the political chops she perhaps lacked earlier in her career. Those horrible, smarmy, Hallmark-level ads of ’08? They’re not coming back – the new image of Clinton is of a smart, get-it-done, successful globetrotter, reliant not on her last name or her gender, but on her record of results and widely praised leadership skills.
Why not: She’s popular right now, but that could be part of the whole Secretary of State thing. Even though the Clintons have already been vetted thoroughly, she'll have to deal with questions about her time as Secretary of State if she decides to run. Clinton will also be 70 on Inauguration Day, only two years younger than John McCain would have been had he been elected.
2. Joe Biden – Vice President
Why: Beneath the Average Joe persona and relatable speaking style hides a savvy strategist and a foreign policy whiz, the man that President Obama chose when he was still Senator Obama to take over the country in case of the unthinkable. Joe’s no joke. He’s built up some good favor with Democratic Party elites, and has surrounded himself with a Grade A political team. Holding the position of Vice President for eight years won't hurt either.
Why not: Joe Biden has a lifelong rival, and that rival’s name is Joe Biden. His gaffes are only part of the problem – the larger issue for him is that he just can’t seem to seal the deal. He dropped out of the presidential race in 1988 after being caught plagiarizing, and dropped out in 2008 after winning a whopping 0.9 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Biden would also be 74 years old on Inauguration Day, which would make him the oldest president ever to take office.
3. Andrew Cuomo – Governor of New York
Why: Governor Andrew Cuomo gets things done in a state where the sentence “the governor gets things done” has recently implied something involving prostitutes. New York’s government was in total disarray when Cuomo took office, and in only a few months, he managed to reign in Albany without alienating the extremely liberal state Democratic Party, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since his father ran the state. He also got same-sex marriage passed by a state senate controlled by Republicans. His approval ratings are in the seventies, making him one of the most popular governors in the country, and New York’s wealthy donors have taken note of his runaway success.
Why not: Cuomo simply isn't a well-known national Democrat. Cuomo didn’t speak at the DNC, except for some of his state delegates at a breakfast, and he hasn’t done the necessary Iowa pilgrimages that presidential hopefuls always make. He's gotten into some battles with the left, and is currently taking fire for his cringeworthy assertion that Hurricane Sandy was more damaging than Hurricane Katrina. He’s also not the best orator, and has a temper that has at times gotten him in some rough situations. He looks good on paper, but that’s not enough to win an election.
4. Brian Schweitzer – soon-to-be-former Governor of Montana
Why: Brian Schweitzer is the most charismatic person on this list – apologies to Joe Biden. Biden and Clinton both have media problems, and Cuomo’s an untested force, but the moderate Montanan knows and loves the camera, and it loves him back. He’s folksy without being cheesy, smart without being professorial and sharp without being mean. Combine that with red-state governing creds, a brilliant strategic mind and a rural background that could sell well in the oh-so-crucial state of Iowa, and you’ve got a potential dark horse
Why not: Schweitzer is guaranteed to be outgunned both financially and organizationally by the big-time candidates. If he wants to win, he’ll have precious little room for error in public appearances, since the debates and good ol’ retail campaigning will be his only chance to break through into the top tier of candidates. Typically, candidates like him have big hot streaks before running out of steam and getting steamrolled themselves by contenders with more money (think Santorum vs. Romney in 2012, for example).
5. Martin O’Malley – Governor of Maryland
Why: O’Malley is the political heir to Tim Pawlenty’s legacy of forgetability, but unlike the vanilla T-Paw, O’Malley might still have a shot. If Clinton and Biden both pass on a White House run (a very real possibility), the field could be open for a lesser-known or less exciting individual. Hey, it worked for Mitt Romney!
Why not: O’Malley’s bad is the same as O’Malley’s good. He’s everyone’s favorite second choice, but not much of a favorite in his own right. If either Clinton or Biden run, he’s probably dead in the water. If Cuomo does well, he’s probably dead in the water. If Schweitzer can put together a legitimate organization, he’s – you guessed it – dead in the water. Second place doesn’t get the gold, and runner-ups don’t get the nomination. And as for the veep slot, a white, middle-aged Marylander just won’t be as exciting as some of the other options the Democratic Party would have. VP Cory Booker, anyone?.
1. Paul Ryan – Congressman from Wisconsin’s First District
Why: When Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s VP choice, eyebrows went up in Washington. Ryan was young, wonky and wholly inexperienced in the national arena. But Ryan showed his capabilities in the campaign, and he’s got four years to continue improving his political talents.
Why not: Raw political talent can’t compensate for experience, and it's important to note that he’s still never won an election outside of Wisconsin’s First District and the Romney household. He may have saved the reputation of his budget agenda, but if he runs on the top of a ticket, the criticism of his plan will return with a vengeance, and this time, from both the left and the right. The GOP field is wide open, and Paul holds onto the number one spot only because of his skills and name recognition.
2. Scott Walker – Governor of Wisconsin
Why: Scott Walker should be political toast. Instead, he’s flying high. The Wisconsin governor passed restrictions on union powers (most infamously, their right to collective bargaining) in a blue-tinted state, and felt the wrath of a newly-energized left. The conventional wisdom was that he overreached, and that he would be defeated in the upcoming recall election. Instead, he won by a larger margin than he did in 2010, and cemented his place as a hero of the right. Walker is a movement conservative, and won two statewide elections in as many years in a state that voted twice for Barack Obama by comfortable margins. Republicans who are tired of nominating moderates could flock to Walker, who many of them view as the embodiment of the longed-for electable conservative.
Why not: Wanna make sure that the left is energized even if they nominate a clunker? Make sure that Walker gets the party nod. Unions and liberals will have a field day ripping apart his record, and money will pour into DNC coffers. Walker’s a good politician, but he’s never quite had that personal magnetism that the other candidates on this list have. Scott Walker, more than anyone else on this list, would be the target of a full-fledged media assault from day one, and that's a risk that Republicans might not be willing to take.
3. Marco Rubio – Senator from Florida
Why: Marco Rubio is everything the GOP needs. He’s young! He’s from a swing state! He’s Hispanic! He’s charismatic! He’s an outsider (kinda)! Oh, and the whole married to a cheerleader thing? He’s got that, too. Rubio went from underdog to rising star in a matter of weeks, as support for then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s senate bid eroded. Who better to court disaffected young and Hispanic voters then a young Hispanic? Oh, and did we mention Florida?
Why not: If you look past the surface, Rubio has some serious flaws as a candidate. The fact that he challenged Crist in a primary in the first place shows that loyalty isn’t big for him – Rubio’s an ambition guy, and he’s not afraid to show it. His record on ethics is pretty spotty (not to mention the whole deceiving about his heritage thing), and the fact is, he hasn’t really done all that much in the Senate. Rubio might fit the bill in theory, but until he actually finds a message that goes beyond his youth and race, he has a dangerous chance of flopping in the primary.
4. Bobby Jindal – Governor of Louisiana
Why: Take Marco Rubio. Then, add a dash of actual accomplishments, an adorably folsky accent, Deep South regional appeal and the love of a conservative intelligencia, and you get Bobby Jindal. He's emerged from the swamp of Louisiana politics without getting his hands dirty, and is so popular in his home state that the Democrats didn't even bother showing up. He recieved largely high marks for his handling of the Deepwater Horizon spill, he's got a polished résumé and all signs point to a run.
Why not: Take Marco Rubio. Then, remove literally all the charisma. If you haven't seen Jindal's 2009 response to Obama's State of the Union speech, that's something you should change. Jindal also has other baggage. He has supported teaching creationism in schools, something that could help him with the religious right, but that would set the party establishment in panic mode. A 'stop Jindal' coalition could easily form around a candidate viewed as less of a social issues warrior if Jindal doesn't temper his views, at least to a certain degree.
5. Chris Christie – Governor of New Jersey
Why: Chris Christie is charismatic. Even when yelling at people to leave a beach or making fat jokes about himself, Chris Christie has an undeniable personal appeal. Christie is quite a popular governor, even in his politically blue state. He's the heavy favorite for reelection as governor, and conservatives looking for a way to bring the party back to the people with a hyper-relatable everyday guy couldn't have a better choice.
Why not: Chris Christie is from New Jersey. That's not a crack at New Jersey, but the fact is that if you're governor of a state like New Jersey, you're going to have to work with Democrats, and you're going to have to compromise. Now, this is absolutely awesome – it's why he's so popular there – but when it comes to surviving a Republican primary, this ain't gonna do him any favors. Neither will this. Or this. All of this makes total, rational sense considering that the President was visiting and helping storm-slammed New Jersey, and Christie was just doing what any decent governor, regardless of party affiliation, would do. But in four years, when Sandy is just a memory, those pictures and quotes are going to live on. Christie also has some temper issues that could create a made-for-YouTube moment like this one (the fact that the beyond-pudgy governor is holding an ice cream cone doesn't help the optics much either) and severely dent his image.