Winnowing the Minnows

Finally the field of candidates for President in 2016 is starting to pare down. The largest field in modern memory was justified, if at all, only by the fact that the Republicans have no one who could satisfy their competing factions. That remains true, but many Republican candidates are barely registering in the national polls. While it is too early for desperation, the money trail points to several whose candidacies are fragile.

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As of today, Lincoln Chafee ended his quixotic candidacy. I wouldn’t say that he ended his campaign, since there didn’t really seem to be one. With Jim Webb dropping off a few days ago and the end of the Joe Biden boomlet, that leaves just three Democrats in the running: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley. Clinton’s long and tedious trial by inquisition on Benghazi is winding down, so the race is probably her’s to lose. She has clearly found her balance after some early wobbles, so only a highly unlikely shock from the continuing FBI investigation into her use of a private e-mail server could derail her coronation walk. O’Malley is almost surely going to end his candidacy shortly, however Sanders will remain as a goad driving Clinton toward progressive positions on domestic issues. He is an interesting candidate and draws large, enthusiastic crowds, but he has yet to show strength in the critical Democratic constituencies. In all one-on-one national polls, Clinton decisively beats him.

The Republican field has lost early favorites Scott Walker and Rick Perry and four others appear to be on terminal life support. Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and George Pataki all have less than $1M cash on hand as of September 30. Their total fund-raising is dwarfed by the major contenders, keeping in mind that billionaire Donald Trump is a special case. Of course all have Super-PACs, although Pataki’s appears to be broke. But when you combine their anemic fund-raising with barely measurable poll numbers, it seems likely that all will be early casualties.

In addition, four others are not in much better shape. With campaign coffers holding less than $3M each and poll numbers that speak volumes, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and Chris Christie need to do something dramatic to remain viable. With the possible exception of Graham, I expect all will persist into the primary season, although I can’t believe that any have a real hope of leading the ticket any more.

That leaves six major Republican contenders, any of whom has a plausible hope of a place on the ticket: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina. I think Fiorina’s place in the sun is dimming, and her best hope is a gender balance as Vice President. The other five have tons of money and a real base of support among vital Republican constituencies. I remain skeptical about the amateurs in the field, although we are clearly in strange political times. If I am right, then the top of the ticket is narrowing down to Rubio, Cruz, and Bush. If I were forced to make an imprudent prediction, I would hesitantly put my money on Ted Cruz right now, especially if Donald Trump fades early.

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