Convention insiders: ‘It’s Hillary’s if she wants it’ in 2016

Jim Watson/AP

After former President Clinton’s bravura performance at the Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday night, Democrats in Charlotte are increasingly upbeat about the prospects that President Obama will be reelected in the fall. But what about four years from now? Who do they think will be carrying the party’s standard then?

At this point, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, according to a National Journal Convention Insiders Poll, an anonymous survey of Democratic and Republican elected and party officials, grassroots activists, consultants, fundraisers, lobbyists, and allied interest-group leaders. The poll was conducted on Sept. 4 and 5.

Among the 151 Democrats who responded to the poll, 69 percent said that if Obama wins reelection, Clinton will be front-runner for the 2016 presidential nod. Clinton was a tireless presence at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston in the run-up to her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. Ironically, while her husband was center stage in Charlotte this year, Clinton was wrapping up an 11-day Asian trip with stops in Brunei and East Timor.

Clinton’s tenure as Obama’s secretary of State is one of many reasons that Democratic Insiders give her a big edge over the rest of the party’s field of potential 2016 contenders. “Hillary’s time on the world stage gives her a leg up on VP [Joe] Biden,” said one Democratic Convention Insider. Another said, “She’s already a star, her reputation for tenacity and hard work has only been solidified, and now it’s hard to make the argument that the Clintons aren’t ‘team players.' ”

But the more common mantra from Democrats regarding their 2016 nomination is simply, “It’s Hillary’s if she wants it.” There is a sense among Democratic operatives that she may be better positioned to run in four years than she was in 2008—when she was also anointed front-runner by Democratic Insiders—and that some in the party are having “buyer’s remorse” that they didn’t nominate her four years ago.

But many Democrats are not convinced that she’ll mount another campaign for the White House, and if she does, she could wait to signal her intentions. “It is not at all clear that she will choose to run,” maintained a Democratic Convention Insider. “Look for frustration to build among the rest [of the field] as she contemplates,” added another.

One of those who probably won’t be waiting is Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Ten percent of the Democratic convention insiders said he may well be the front-runner for the 2016 nomination. “O’Malley wants it and he’s working it hard,” observed one Democratic Convention Insider. Another echoed, “O’Malley has the drive and the stomach for it.” As head of the Democratic Governors Association, O’Malley has been making political connections across the country, and in Charlotte he’s been meeting with key state delegations and party activists who could provide foot soldiers for a presidential campaign.

But his Tuesday night prime-time convention address did not give him much of a lift in pursuit of the Democrats’ brass ring. “On the strength of his speech, not O’Malley,” averred one Democratic Convention Insider assessing his chances.

Another governor, Andrew Cuomo of New York, was judged to be the likely 2016 front-runner by 6 percent of the Democrats in the poll. “[Vice President Joe] Biden and Clinton won’t be candidates,” maintained one Democratic Convention Insider. “Cuomo has a lot of national name recognition.”

And what about Biden, who has thrilled many Democrats lately with his “Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive” stump speech line? Only 5 percent in the survey said that he’d be the party’s 2016 front-runner after Obama is reelected. “As the current vice president, he’s the presumptive nominee until he says no,” asserted one Democratic Insider.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner was seen by 3 percent of the Democratic Insiders as the heir apparent after Obama, followed by New York Sen. Kirsten GillibrandColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper,Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Bay State Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who each scored 1 percent in the survey.

Another 4 percent of the Democratic Convention Insiders listed “someone else” as the likely 2016 front-runner should Obama win reelection. As one Democrat sagely said, “It’s too early to predict.”

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