Alright, let’s assume for the moment that Cincinnati does land the 2016 Republican presidential nominating convention.
What would the chances be that the eventual nominee of the GOP turns out to be from Ohio, the host state, or right across the river in Kentucky?
It’s a long shot, but by no means outside the realm of possibility.
Despite having an Electoral College map that works decidedly against them, the Republicans seemingly have more potential 2016 presidential contenders than Heinz has varieties.
Two of them are from Ohio. One is from Kentucky. All are well known to their constituents; all of them have a national reputation to one extent or another.
They are (probably in order of likelihood) Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Ohio’s junior senator, Rob Portman.
Larry J. Sabato is director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics; and he publishes a weekly newsletter – Sabato’s Crystal Ball - on congressional and gubernatorial races around the country, along with an outlook for the 2016 presidential campaign.
It is widely read and closely studied by politicos from one end of the country to the other; and its predictions on congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections are more often than not spot-on.
Sabato, along with the Center for Politics communications director, Kyle Kondik, rank the contenders into four categories: “First Tier,” “Second Tier,” “Wild Cards” and “Also Rans.”
In the latest issue, Paul ranks third among four in the First Tier – below former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and ahead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose presidential possibilities have been sinking since the onset of the “Bridgegate” fiasco.
Kasich pops up third among three in the Second Tier, behind U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Portman made his first appearance on the list in this issue as third among four Wild Cards,” behind Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 vice presidential candidate; and former governor and talk show host Mike Huckabee and one slot ahead of New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez.
Let’s take them one by one:
Rand Paul: There is little question that Paul is serious about running – otherwise, why would he be trying to get the Kentucky legislature to change state law so he could run for president and re-election to the Senate in 2016?
And Paul is the early favorite in some national polls of Republican voters, having leap-frogged over Christie, Ryan and others.
Paul is a tea party favorite; and can be a prodigious fund-raiser.
But can he win the nomination?
Kondik doubts it.
“I don’t see how Paul gets to the nomination,’’ Kondik said recently on 91.7 WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition. “The endorsements from party leaders actually matter.”
Kondik doubts that Paul, try as he may, will have much support from the GOP establishment. And, he says, it is usually an “establishment” candidate who ends up winning the Republican nomination.
“Look at 2008 and 2012,’’ Kondik said. “After the Republicans flirted with more conservative options, they ended up supporting the mainstream establishment figure. In 2008, that was John McCain. In 2012, it was Mitt Romney.”
Still, Paul is trying to make inroads with the party establishment, and still has to be considered a serious contender.
John Kasich: First things first. First, Kasich must win re-election as Ohio’s governor this year to be taken seriously as a presidential contender.
But if Kasich wins by a substantial margin over Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County Executive, he will jump several notches up the list.
That’s the reason FitzGerald has been relentlessly pestering Kasich to sign a pledge saying that, if re-elected, he will serve out his four-year term as governor.
Kasich has pooh-poohed FitzGerald’s demand, calling it “silly” and saying he doesn’t fall for gimmicks. Modestly, the first-term governor says he is flattered by being mentioned as a possible presidential contender but is focused on Ohio and making it a better place to work and live.
But guess where Kasich was scheduled to be this weekend? In Las Vegas, at a luxury hotel called the Venetian, which is owned by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who, with his wife, spent $92 million on candidates in 2012 – including a big wad of money for Newt Gingrich, who was challenging Mitt Romney and others for the GOP nomination.
This time around, it is said that Adelson is looking for a mainstream presidential candidate to get behind and several of them showed up this weekend at the Venetian for what is being referred to as the “Sheldon Primary.” On the guest list is Jeb Bush, Christie, Walker and Kasich – all the kind of mainstream Republicans that Adelson might decide to get behind.
Kasich aides told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week that the trip to Las Vegas is about raising money for the 2014 re-election campaign and not a run for the presidency.
Adelson helped Kasich win the governor’s office in 2010 with contributions to the Republican Governors Association; and is likely to help him this year as well.
Would he help the Ohio governor if he were to become a presidential candidate? Possibly so.
Rob Portman: The senator from Terrace Park has consistently said the presidency is not on his mind. Representing Ohio’s interests in the Senate is, he says, along with his job as the chief fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which aims to take over control of the U.S. Senate in 2016.
But his name keeps popping up in national publications as a dark horse candidate for 2016.
Sabato himself got in on the act earlier this month, with an article on politico.com entitled “Republicans Need a Champion in 2016.”
With the Electoral College map favoring the Democrats and polls showing that Democrats have a stranglehold on demographic minorities, majority support among women voters and young people, Sabato suggested that the Republicans might take a different approach in 2016 – “finding a nominee who doesn’t just superficially demonstrate diversity but has taken a substantive, career-threatening position in standing up for diversity?”
“Enter Rob Portman of Ohio,’’ Sabato wrote. He pointed to Portman’s announcement last year that his son, Will, was gay. He declared his support not only for his son, but for same-sex marriage.
“It took guts to do what Portman did, with the political consequences unknown and potentially severe,’’ Sabato wrote.
Sabato told WVXU Friday that he doesn’t think Portman will actually make the race, although he said he could see him as a vice presidential candidate for someone like Martinez, the New Mexico governor, who could appeal to Hispanics, the fastest growing group of the electorate.
“The Republicans have to start thinking outside the box,’’ Sabato said. “I used Portman as an example because he is so competent. And he has done something that was courageous. The Republicans ought to show that they are broad-minded, that they are not a bunch of narrow-minded fuddy-duddys.”
The line of potential GOP candidates is a long one; and it would be a fool’s game to predict where things will stand a year from now, much less two years from now.
But, if Cincinnati does indeed host the 2016 Republican convention, there is an outside chance that the nominee won’t have to travel far to make his acceptance speech.