Top 10 Democratic presidential contenders for 2016

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Kevin Lamarque/AP

While waiting for Election Day results, here’s a reminder that 2016 is only four years away. A list of 10 Democrats who could be top presidential contenders next cycle.

1. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

The popular secretary of State has said repeatedly that she has no plans to run for president again, and has hinted that she’d like to turn to advocacy work after she leaves her post next year. But Democrats—and even some Republicans—keep calling on Clinton to run, and after four successful years as the face of American diplomacy her fan base is deeper than ever. If Clinton were to throw her hat in the ring, she’d be considered the front-runner, just as she was when she launched her 2008 bid.

2. Vice President Joe Biden

Biden ran for president in 1988, plagiarized a speech, and had to withdraw. He ran again in 2008, landed a few noteworthy gaffes, and dropped out early in the primary process after struggling to make a mark. But he is a more instinctively populist politician than many of 2016’s potential contenders, and many Democrats love him despite his flaws.

3. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley

Speech at the Democratic convention: check. Outspoken defender of Obama: check. A Political Action Committee that will back nationwide candidates: check. The ambitious chairman of the Democratic Governors Association has left little doubt that he’s mulling a 2016 bid. O’Malley has a strong record in improving education, and he’s been a stalwart supporter of liberal causes such as same-sex marriage and immigration reform, including a Maryland version of the Dream Act.

4. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The governor of New York isn’t kissing anyone’s shoes. Cuomo’s appearance at the Democratic convention was so fast and so low-profile that few even knew he was in town. In Albany, he hasn’t been afraid to anger the liberal base, particularly by clashing with unions, but he’s won widespread praise for his ability to wrangle legislators. Cuomo’s ability to cut a deal paid off with a big win for Democrats: legalization of gay marriage in New York.

5. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia

Virginia’s junior senator isn’t a household name, but he’s been a key player in Washington’s deficit-reduction talks. As a member of the “Gang of Six” and the “Gang of Eight,” Warner has participated in secret negotiations aiemd at budgetary compromise. So far, the behind-the-scenes talks haven’t borne fruit, but if the gang’s discussions manage to push Congress toward a deal, it would be a gold star on Warner’s resume. He also has a strong business background and can point to his ability to win a Senate seat in a battleground state.

6. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer

The governor of Montana made a big splash at the 2008 Democratic convention, and he was back for a second time in 2012. Schweitzer is a big player in the Democratic Governors Association, a popular populist and the liberal governor of a conservative state. He is known for his showmanship—and his a sometimes outlandish sense of humor. Schweitzer has signaled that he’d be open to a presidential bid: At the recent party convention, he met with New Hampshire and Iowa delegates.

7. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Patrick’s plum speaking role at the 2012 Democratic convention raised his profile and sparked speculation that he could be a contender in 2016. As an African-American with a rags-to-riches story, he inevitably draws comparisons to Obama, and he’s been a prominent surrogate for the president. Patrick has built a solidly liberal record as governor, focusing on issues such as health care, the environment, and education. When his term ends in 2014, Patrick has said he plans to return to the private sector.

8. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York

Gillibrand is somewhat overshadowed by other New York state politicians—notably Gov. Cuomo and her forerunner in the Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yet Gillibrand has star power, and she has proved to be a prolific fundraiser for both herself and other Democrats seeking office. Absent Clinton, there could be an opening for a female senator to jump into the fray. For now, however, Gillibrand seems focused on encouraging Clinton to consider another shot at the presidency.

9. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Vaulting from mayor to the presidency is a long shot for any politician—even the mayor of the second largest city in the United States. Villaraigosa is one of the highest-profile Latino leaders in the Democratic Party, and he got more attention as chair of the Democratic convention this year. He has said that his eyes are on the governorship of California, not the presidency, after his mayoral term ends in 2013, but Villaraigosa has never been shy of the media spotlight, and you can expect to hear from him in 2016—even if he’s just endorsing someone else.

10. Newark Mayor Cory Booker

The crusading mayor of a run-down city has won accolades for his efforts to reform the public school system. Booker is known for heroics: He recently ran into a burning building to rescue an elderly neighbor. The African-American former Rhodes Scholar got himself into hot water with Democrats earlier this year, when he publicly criticized the Obama campaign’s attacks on GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s private-equity career. Booker quickly walked back the critique in a YouTube video for the Obama campaign. The mayor's political future looks bright, but he’s more of a 2020 contender than 2016: Challenging Gov. Chris Christie for New Jersey governor in 2013 could be a better next step.

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