Ready for a Republican Free-for-All ; Deep Field of Candidates for 2016 Presidential Race Reflects Divisions in Party

By Michael Barbaro; Jonathan Martin | International New York Times, November 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ready for a Republican Free-for-All ; Deep Field of Candidates for 2016 Presidential Race Reflects Divisions in Party


Michael Barbaro; Jonathan Martin, International New York Times


With more than a dozen potential candidates and a fast start to the 2016 campaign, the party appears headed to an unusual free-for- all.

Republican presidential primaries have for decades been orderly affairs, with any momentary drama mitigated by the expectation that the party would inevitably nominate its tested, often graying front- runner.

But as the 2016 White House campaign effectively began in the last week, it became apparent that this race might be different: a fluid contest, verging on chaotic, that will showcase the party's deep bench of talent but also highlight its ideological and generational divisions.

As Democrats signal that they are ready to rally behind Hillary Rodham Clinton before their primary season even begins, allowing them to focus their fund-raising and firepower mostly on the general election, the Republicans appear destined for a free-for-all.

"I can think of about 16 potential candidates," said Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi and a veteran of Republican presidential politics dating from 1968. "Almost every one of them have a starting point. But there is no true front-runner."

The sprawling nature of the race was on display Thursday as an array of would-be candidates took steps to position themselves.

At a gathering of Republican governors here, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey sought to capitalize on the party's victories this year in Democratic-leaning states while at least six fellow governors tested their messages and met with potential donors.

On the same day in Washington, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, addressed an education conference and tried to play down differences with the right on the Common Core standards. On Capitol Hill, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky continued his outreach to African-Americans by having breakfast with the Rev. Al Sharpton, while Senator Ted Cruz of Texas appealed to conservatives by citing Cicero on the Senate floor in a speech castigating President Obama's executive action on immigration.

And in California, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, just back from taking a group of evangelicals from early primary states on a trip to Europe honoring Ronald Reagan's Cold War leadership, venerated Mr. Reagan in a speech at his presidential library.

If the dizzying activity on a single day captured the depth of the Republican field, it also underlined its factions, split among pragmatists, hard-liners and those trying to bridge the blocs.

Foster Friess, a major Republican donor whose contributions to Rick Santorum's "super PAC" helped keep alive the former Pennsylvania senator's presidential campaign two years ago, acknowledged that the coalescence around Mrs. Clinton was a "huge advantage" for Democrats.

"That's why the Democrats run the government and the Republicans run the museums," Mr. Friess said.

But the eventual choice for the nomination will not merely speak to philosophical direction. Republicans also confront a generational decision: They have several energetic governors and senators in their 40s and early 50s lining up to run. Yet there is also an older group of potential candidates, such as Mr. Bush and Mitt Romney, who could arrest the ambitions of the next generation of Republicans but whose experience could be appealing.

To date, Mrs. Clinton, 67, has been the target of the age- oriented attacks by the younger Republicans. But some of that fire is now from within, albeit subtly. After Gov. …

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