Opinion Columns & Blogs

ERICKSON: Off to the races

The list of Republican candidates for president continues to grow. Two days ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum declared. Next week, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will declare. Within three weeks, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will declare.

Already, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have declared. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has not officially declared, but he is all but officially declared. Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker is out there as is former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Ben Carson and Donald Trump are out on the trail too as is former New York Gov. George Pataki,

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is declared as is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is thinking about it, too. As the scandal over the Clinton Foundation funds moves into a scandal over Bill Clinton’s consulting work for Teneo Strategy LLC -- a story about which we are only just beginning to learn things -- other Democrats may sense blood in the water.

This is, in fact, a historically anomalous election. Typically, Republicans have the coronation of the next in line and Democrats have a real contest for a nominee. This year, Democrats are all but reconciled to Hillary Clinton as the nominee and the Republicans want to be wowed by a candidate. Polling suggests the excitement level on the Republican side is higher because of this, but still most are not excited either way. It just seems too early. We just got through an election cycle.

Behind the scenes, there is a growing sense among Democratic strategists in Washington and the political press that Hillary might become too damaged. I talked to a senior Democratic strategist last week who worries about that. He told me Clinton is a strong nominee but is rusty. At the same time, he worries the public opinion forming around her may last. His biggest concern, shared by other Democrats I talk to, is that the Republicans have several fresh faces to Clinton.

Marco Rubio has capitalized on that already. Democrats have been privately fretting about Rubio. He declared his candidacy the day after Clinton and started his speech by saying, “Yesterday a candidate from yesterday announced she was running for president. But yesterday’s gone.” The Democrats recognize this strategy and know it to be effective. It is the same message Bill Clinton used effectively against George H.W. Bush in 1992. Clinton then argued that to get us into the 21st century, we needed younger leaders not shackled to outmoded ideas.

Rubio is not the only candidate to make a past versus future contrast. Cruz, Walker, Paul and Jindal have as well. The downside is that, as my Democratic strategist friend noted, Clinton may be rusty out of the gate, but she is also much more experienced on the national campaign trail than any of the Republican candidates or her potential primary opponents.

Clinton, however, does have one downside she is already trying to address. Her race will be seen by many as a third term affirmation for President Obama, who himself struggles to keep his popularity near 50 percent. The only time a party has held a White House for three consecutive terms since World War II was when George H.W. Bush was elected. He ran explicitly as a third term for Ronald Reagan. Though Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, even he could not hold the White House a third term for the Democrats. This, more than any Republican opponent, keeps Democratic strategists awake at night.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta

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