At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last week, young GOP up-and-comers took to the stage to begin building their credentials before 2016, while the Republican National Committee recently released a postmortem report recommending changes to the party ahead of the next presidential election.
With Republicans scrambling for agreement on hot-button issues like gay marriage and immigration, Democrats could be feeling pretty confident in looking toward 2016. However, vice.com writer James Poulos warned that Democrats can laugh now, but 2016 "will break you."
"Obama has left the Democrats no political heir," Poulos said. "Republicans, by contrast, have an embarrassment of riches."
Do Republicans really have an embarrassment of riches, and will Democrats have someone to turn to?
Here's a look at the benches of both parties — Republicans and Democrats — and the rumored candidates who might step forward to run in 2016.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., elected to office in the Republican wave of 2010, was discussed as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, and has emerged as a Republican leader on immigration issues.
The son of immigrants from Cuba, Rubio often talks about the hard work and time his parents invested in building the American dream, and has placed a heavy emphasis on the idea that conservative principles can help solve America's problems.
Rubio provided the Republican response to President Barack Obama's 2013 State of the Union address — briefly sparking (and embracing) a media firestorm after taking a drink of water during his response — and came in second in the CPAC presidential straw poll, losing by two points to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
The obvious frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination on the Democratic side is former candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
According to a January Public Policy Polling release, Clinton had a 54 percent favorable rating among registered voters, while 39 percent viewed her unfavorably. Among Democrats, 79 percent had a favorable opinion of her. The next closest Democratic rival — Vice President Joe Biden — came in a distance second, at 16 percent.
A Feb. 5, 2013 Daily Beast article dubbed Clinton "the most powerful woman in American politics," and said she is "almost certainly the most important woman in all of our political history."
"In the 20 years she's been on the stage, the country has gone from wondering whether women could handle the toughest jobs to knowing they can," Michael Tomasky wrote. "That is a huge cultural change — barriers that were a given for most people a generation ago are just completely socially unacceptable now, and thousands more women know they can aim for the top. No one is more responsible for that change than Hillary Clinton."
Clinton, who lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama, served as Secretary of State during Obama's first term and left the position in February. She is reportedly now writing a memoir about her time as Secretary of State and facing questions over whether or not she'll run in 2016.
Angelo Tsakopoulos, a major Clinton donor, said in February that, "Hillary will be our next president and she will be a great one."
"I talked to her husband and he confirmed it," Tsakopoulos said. "She will run."
"Let's tally it all up: She's building a list, a website, a theoretical campaign staff (or, at least, courting donors). It's time to stop speculating. No more 'will she or won't she?' She is," The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve wrote in February.
Fresh off his 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor — a filibuster that was inspired by the Obama administration's drone policies and won the praise of Code Pink, Jon Stewart and Bill Maher — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., received a standing ovation at CPAC and walked away with a win in the CPAC straw poll.
Paul, the son of former Rep. Ron Paul, was elected to office in 2010 and has been fighting for limited government since that time, returning $600,000 of his office's operating budget to the Treasury in 2013, releasing a plan to balance the budget in five years and talking immigration reform.
"With his filibuster against the Obama administration's drone policy, a first-place finish in the Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll — and on Tuesday, a speech pressing for immigration reform — the Kentuckian is on a roll," Politico's James Hohmann wrote.
He'll be a force to be reckoned with in 2016, Hohmann said, thanks to his built-in libertarian base, his principles, his caution, his lack of skeletons in the closet and his ability to play the inside game.
The month of January was full of hints from Vice President Joe Biden that he was considering a run for the top spot in 2016, with media reports chronicling a plethora of winks and nods in that direction.
Five major hints, compiled by The Daily Caller in January, included a newfound chumminess with New Hampshire and Iowa, a statement that he didn't think the 2012 election was the last time he'd be voting for himself, a joke stating that, "You'll vote for me in 2016," and the state of the economy when Obama's second term is up.
Biden is "intoxicated" by the idea of running in 2016, Politico reported in January, and the intoxication is hardly new.
"Officials working on the Obama-Biden campaign last year were struck by how the vice president always seemed to have one eye on a run, including aggressively courting the president's donors," a Democrat close to the White House told Politico. "Obama aides at times had to actively steer Biden to places where he was needed — like Pennsylvania — because he kept asking to be deployed to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states."
Statistics are on Biden's side, should he decide to run, a recent policymic.com article said. Five vice presidents have later won an election, while only three have lost, and a full look at all of the numbers indicates that he would have a 63 percent chance of winning.
Biden would be 74 years old if he ran and won the presidential election in 2016.
Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's 2009 Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address was a chance for him to raise his national profile, but his performance was panned and Jindal took the blame for the speech, calling his own delivery "awful."
Since then, though, Jindal has been receiving praise in GOP circles across the nation, The Associated Press's Melinda Deslatte wrote in 2012.
"He's being cast as a knowledgeable policy wonk with strong conservative credentials who appeals to the Christian right and can claim a long list of accomplishments, such as leading the state through a series of disasters, including the Gulf Coast oil spill," Deslatte said.
Jindal is the son of immigrants from India, and with his election in 2007, became the nation's first Indian-American governor.
In Feb. 2013, Politico's Emily Schultheis argued that Jindal is using his state as a 2016 testing ground for Republican policies, proposing a school voucher plan, opposing the health care overhaul's Medicaid expansion and proposing nixing the state's personal income tax and corporate taxes.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is a rising star within the Democratic Party and has amassed a resume of heroics that have helped boost his name recognition nationally.
"This is the guy who began his first term staying up all night to chase drug dealers off corners and once ran down a scissors-wielding assailant while shouting, 'Not in our city anymore!'" a December Vogue profile on Booker said. "In April, he shoved aside his bodyguard to rescue a neighbor trapped in a burning house, suffering smoke inhalation and second-degree burns in the process . . . such is Booker's governing style: the mayor as collective parent and urban superhero."
In December, Booker announced that he would not challenge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the governor's job, and announced instead that he would explore the possibility of running for the United States Senate in 2014. Booker and Christie, despite coming from different political parties, have formed a friendship that they took viral with a Seinfield-inspired video parody in early 2012.
According to nj.com, Booker filed paperwork in January with the Federal Election Commission to begin raising money for a 2014 Senate primary, but that the move was done strictly to put himself on parity with other possible candidates.
Reaching outside of the realm of strict politics, Booker recently attended the South by Southwest Interactive Festival — a music, film and interactive conference — held in Austin, Texas. At SXSW, Booker talked about his 1.3 million Twitter followers and how government should be using social media as a tool to connect with constituents.
Out of all the contenders on the Republican bench, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has possibly faced down the most opposition in his elected office after tackling public employees' collective bargaining rights in 2011 and facing a recall election in 2012.
Walker became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election, and his victory margin was bigger than when he first won in 2010.
In the two years since Walker's election, he helped Wisconsin's $3.6 billion biennial deficit disappear, and latest projections show Wisconsin with a surplus of $342 million, excluding the state's "rainy day" account, The Weekly Standard reported in Feb. 2013.
Walker recently passed on expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin and wants to shift some Medicaid recipients — those with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level — to the health care exchange set up under the president's health care overhaul, Stephen Hayes reported.
After his speech at CPAC, Walker told Politico's Jonathan Martin that he wouldn't rule out running for president, but said he fought pretty hard to get elected twice in Wisconsin, and his focus right now is on achieving the results he promised his constituents.
While Republicans are weighing which governor they might want to run with in 2016, a Democratic governor is also drawing some attention — Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
In December, Cuomo was well matched against N.J. Gov Chris Christie's currently popularity, having achieved a peak approval rating of 74 percent among all voters. However, a Tuesday Quinnipiac University poll showed Cuomo's numbers dropping, with his approval rating now standing at 55 percent. The split came, according to The New York Daily News, because of Cuomo's push for tougher gun control.
Cuomo's record as governor has the potential to appeal to people on both sides of the aisle, The New York Times reported in February, as he pushed through a same-sex marriage bill and tackled gun control — policies that could help woo liberals — and opposed a millionaire's tax and confronted public-sector unions — policies traditionally more Republican in nature.
Anthony Hopper, writing at Yahoo News, predicted that the 2016 race will come down to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the right, and Cuomo on the left.
"Public Policy Polling asked voters about their familiarity with potential Democratic presidential candidates," Hopper said. "In the poll, Cuomo ranked third behind only Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Like his potential Republican opponent, Cuomo lives in a populous state, which will help him in collecting donations and in organizing his campaign. Most important, Cuomo, as governor, has demonstrated that he can work with politicians from both parties. Democratic voters will find this trait appealing, especially in light of the current gridlock on Capitol Hill."
Cuomo's fate in 2016 depends largely on whether or not Clinton decides to run, a September 2012 New York Times article said.
Once touted as a possible 2012 presidential candidate and later as a VP pick on Mitt Romney's 2012 ticket, Christie got into trouble with Republicans for his behavior toward President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit right before the election.
However, Romney, in a recent interview, said Christie was just doing his job as governor in regard to the president and post-storm cleanup.
The party may not be able to write Christie off in 2016, because according to a January 2013 Public Policy Polling report, he might be the only Republican capable of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016, should she decide to run.
Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, becoming the first Republican elected to statewide office since 1997, and a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed him with an approval rating of 74 percent.
Christie spoke at the Republican National Convention, is raising record amounts of cash for his re-election bid and will be the vice chairman of the Republican Governors' Association in 2014.
Another governor on the Democratic side — Gov. Martin O'Malley — is also generating buzz and presidential talk as the maneuvering begins for the 2016 race, with National Journal arguing that his progressive resume could put him in the position to run from the left.
"O'Malley was one of the first governors to legalize gay marriage in his home state, taking the lead on the issue well before Hillary Rodham Clinton," Elahe Izadi wrote. "He successfully pushed to end the death penalty, and is now open to legalizing medical marijuana. Even on immigration, a federal issue, O'Malley threw his weight behind a state equivalent of the Dream Act, allowing undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition for universities."
O'Malley was a prime-time speaker during the Democratic National Convention and served for two years as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
"Mr. O'Malley was among many speakers on a crowded dais, so I'm not sure how memorable the speech will prove to be in the context of his presumed presidential ambitions," Richard Cross III wrote in the Baltimore Sun after the Democratic convention in September 2012. "But minimally, he demonstrated loyalty to President Obama and continued the process of introducing himself to a national audience."
This year, O'Malley is now, according to Buzzfeed, "testing a risky new political calculus for the post-Obama era: Win voters by raising taxes."
O'Malley recently proposed to raise taxes on gasoline statewide as part of a transportation plan to repair infrastructure and reduce commute time, the website reported.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was picked as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 election, but first became known as a policy wonk in Congress, where he is the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Ryan spoke at CPAC shortly after the GOP released its new budget, and in doing so, sounded more like a busy House Budget Committee chairman than a Republican gaming out a presidential campaign in 2016, National Journal's Rebecca Kaplan wrote.
"At CPAC, Ryan was not selling a GOP vision for future elections," Kaplan said. "He was selling the GOP vision for the fiscal fights underway right now: curb spending, cut the deficit and scale back the scope of government . . . There will be other opportunities for Ryan if and when he wants to build the platform for a national bid. For now, the Budget Committee chairman has other work to do."
Ryan's budget would cut spending by $5.7 trillion, reduce the top tax rate to 25 percent and balance the budget within 10 years. The plan has been criticized by Democrats, but also by Republicans, who worry it doesn't go far enough or that it goes too far and will damage Republican chances at future elections.
In a recent Fox News interview, Ryan said his campaign with Romney made the idea of running for president "more realistic" in his mind.
She may not get as much notice as Cuomo or Clinton, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who formerly served as a member of the United States House of Representatives, could be on the short list of potential presidential candidates in 2016.
Gillibrand, who took over Clinton's Senate seat when Clinton moved to the Secretary of State job and was re-elected in 2012, has proven to be a quick study politically, The New York Daily News reported in October 2012. During her time in office, Gillibrand has spoken to the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention in September, created a second PAC designed to help elect women and become a skillful fundraiser.
Although Gillibrand looks like more of a team player than a team leader at this point — cheerleading for Clinton, Cuomo and Elizabeth Warren — she's worth watching as 2016 comes closer, Tessa Blake wrote at The Huffington Post in November.
"She's totally relatable. She gains and loses weight. She takes care of her kids. She's saucy and candid. She tweets," Blake said. "Kirsten Gillibrand is a campaigning juggernaut and a brilliant lawmaker; a gracious opponent and a fierce defender of civil rights; a tenacious advocate and a humble winner. And she could campaign to become our first woman president in 2016."
Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., became South Carolina's first female governor and the second Indian-American governor in the country with her election in 2010. She, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, are the three youngest governors in the country.
Haley was mentioned in the 2012 election as a possible vice presidential candidate on Romney's ticket, but ultimately said she would not take the slot if offered because she had made a promise to the people of South Carolina that she intended to keep.
Haley spoke at the Republican National Convention in August 2012, though, saying that the hardest part of her job as governor was dealing with the Obama administration. It was a point she echoed as she introduced Romney at CPAC this year.
Haley, along with Christie, Jindal and Rubio, are 2016 contenders, Aaron Wee wrote at policymic.com in 2012, and all have been "aided by their rare abilities to connect with the average voter, riding on the GOP's recent wave of populism and effectively communicating with their states' needs." They're also not "heavily burdened with the 'establishment' moniker and are still seen — even the long-serving Jindal — as being fresh leaders with bold new ideas."
At the Democratic National Convention in September, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could barely pass a TV camera or influential Democrat from an early-voting state without stopping to chat, Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times wrote, signaling that he might be one of many Democratic 2016 short-listers who were barely trying to hide their aspirations.
In July 2012, Villaraigosa told Yahoo News that he had no interest in being president one day, and that his focus was entirely on finishing his job as mayor of the country's second largest city. His term ends on July 1, 2013. However, during an Oct. 20, 2012 interview in Iowa, Villaraigosa said he plans to "reflect" on his term as mayor before deciding what to do next.
Villaraigosa spoke at the Democratic National Convention in September, calling it the most diverse, inclusive convention in U.S. history and praising Obama while slamming Republicans for their policies regarding illegal immigrants, women, Medicare and the rich.
"As Villaraigosa continues to gain national notoriety, speculation about his future after he terms out as mayor in June ranges from an Obama administration appointment — possibly as Secretary of Transportation — to running for California governor or for president in 2016," Kathleen Miles wrote at The Huffington Post in September. "The mayor has dismissed these speculations."
Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother to former President George W. Bush, said in June 2012 that he'd probably missed his presidential window of opportunity by not running that year, but wouldn't rule out a future run either.
Bush's major platforms in the Republican Party are education reform and immigration — two things he talked about during his speech at the Republican National Convention in August 2012 and his speech at the 2013 CPAC respectively. At CPAC, he also addressed the importance of building a more inclusive Republican Party.
"All too often we're associated with being 'anti' everything," Bush said. "Way too many people think Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-workers, and the list goes on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party."
A March 5 New York Times article said that the friendliness between Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bush could be an indication that they might not be willing to run at the same time.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was elected to office in 2008 after formerly serving as governor of Virginia. Although his name isn't atop the list of 2016 contenders, there is some buzz surrounding his future in the party.
According to a December 2012 Politico story, Warner has been among several 2016 possibilities who have been meeting with big donors, which could signal the intention of mounting a primary run. Or, perhaps, Warner's decision not to run for governor in Virginia in 2013 might indicate that he has been looking to move to the executive branch or might be more focused on running for re-election in 2014, the August Free Press reported in November 2012. Speculation regarding Warner's future, though, should likely shift in the direction of looking at a 2016 run, the article said.
During a September 2012 interview with the Des Moines Register, Warner repeatedly told reporters that he's "got no plans" for 2016, and that if the country doesn't deal with the national debt and deficit issue in the coming year, "it's going to be a very different country in 2016."
As governor, Warner helped erase a budget deficit, which could give him credibility to run as a moderate, a February The New York Times article suggested.
However, Warner faces one major challenge in nabbing the 2016 Democratic nomination, Jamie Weinstein of The Daily Caller argued in November 2012.
"If 2012 taught us that the American electorate hates rich, old white men, then Mark Warner's presidential prospects aren’t particularly luminous," Weinstein said.
Dr. Ben Carson, the soon-to-retire director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, recently shot to conservative stardom for a speech he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in which he talked about the censoring effects of oversensitivity and fear of causing offense, as well as other topics including education, a flat tax, health care and the national debt.
Carson grew up in the Detroit ghetto and, thanks to a mother who believed in him, went from getting the lowest grades in his middle school classes to surpassing the achievements of his classmates.
In his speech at CPAC, Carson said the nation stands or falls on education, and voters have the responsibility to know how the government works and what government officials are doing.
American citizens need to understand that we are not each other's enemies in this country, Carson told the audience at CPAC, and Americans need to recognize that the political class and the media derive their power by creating friction.
"We have much more in common with each other than we have apart, and we have to be smart enough to understand that," Carson said. "We have to live by godly principles of loving your fellow man, of caring about your neighbor, developing your God-given talents to the utmost so that you become valuable to the people around you, of having values and principles that guide your life. If we do that, not only will we remain a pinnacle nation, but we will truly have one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Carson's retirement from medicine doesn't necessarily indicate a future in politics, but he recently told the Christian Post that God may call on him to run in the future.
"Let's say you magically put me, y'know, into the White House," Carson teased at one point in his speech at CPAC. He had to stop for a moment to let the cheers die down and then joked that he took it back before continuing with his story.
In a June 2012 Atlantic piece comparing the Democratic bench to the Republican bench, Molly Ball reported that Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, placed third in a Take Back the American Dream conference straw poll, behind then-candidate Elizabeth Warren and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Over at the Daily Kos, though, writer Stephen Wolf argued that Brown, more than Cuomo or Clinton, presented the best shot for voters to send "a true liberal to the White House in 2016."
More than his positions on issues like gay rights, fair trade, financial reform and climate change, though, Wolf said Brown would be supported as the Democratic candidate because he "has a long history of winning first in a Republican-leaning congressional seat and then in slightly Republican leaning Ohio while being a tried and true progressive fighter."
"For all of you who were avid supporters of Howard Dean due to his unabashed fighting for progressive ideals and for those of you who became reluctant supporters of John Kerry based on electability in 2004, here is your moment to be pragmatic and idealistic by supporting a popular swing state liberal," Wolf concluded.
At the Washington Monthly, Rich Yeselson named Brown as the closest thing ideologically to being a successor to Ted Kennedy and the second choice (behind Elizabeth Warren) as a 2016 foil for "socially liberal/economically centrist" Andrew Cuomo.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was called "The Republican Barack Obama" by Mother Jones and has jumped into the spotlight since his election in 2012.
Cruz is a Princeton and Harvard alumnus and was the first Hispanic to clerk for a Chief Justice of the United States. He also, Mother Jones reported, might be found giving shout-outs to Noble Prize-winning economists from the podium during speeches.
"He's the thinking man's tea partier, an intellectual face on a movement and ideology that have long simmered beneath the Republican mainstream," Tim Murphy wrote. "He is, with apologies to fellow Cuban American Marco Rubio, the up-and-comer du jour of the conservative movement."
Since heading to Washington, Cruz has garnered headlines for joining Rand Paul in his filibuster in the Senate, pressing Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the constitutionality of her assault weapons ban legislation and being willing to be confrontational with others in Congress.
There is debate, however, over whether or not Cruz would be eligible to run for president, because Cruz was born in Canada to a Delaware-born mother and a Cuban father.
Cruz delivered the keynote address at CPAC.
In 2012, Elizabeth Warren — now Senator Warren — bumped off Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and reclaimed Ted Kennedy's old seat for the Democrats.
According to The Washington Post's February 2013 ranking of the Democratic 2016 field, Warren would make the top-10 list because of her ability to stoke enthusiasm among liberals and raise massive amounts of money. However, the authors of the list cautioned, she hasn't been on the national stage for long.
"Warren is about as high-profile as they come," Michael Catalini wrote at the National Journal in January. "Her victory over former Republican Sen. Scott Brown restored Massachusetts' all-Democratic Congressional delegation. An architect of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, she proved that she's a fundraising super star, raising $42 million in 2012 . . . Asked if she would run in 2016, she told ABC's Jonathon Karl: 'No, no, no, no, no.' That said, as Karl noted, Obama also denied any interest in a presidential campaign before changing his mind."
Referring back to the same Take Back the American Dream poll that placed Sherrod Brown in third place, Warren surpassed Clinton as the preferred candidate for 2016, 32 to 27 percent, even though she was still months away from defeating Scott Brown in the election.
"It tells you something about Warren's status as a rock star of the left that before the Massachusetts Senate candidate has even won her first election, she's being pumped as a future presidential candidate," Atlantic reporter Molly Ball wrote at the time. "But it tells you even more about the status of the Democratic farm team. There are precious few tabbed for political stardom in the Democratic ranks the way Obama was starting in 2004 or the way Marco Rubio is adored on the right today."