Paul, Cruz, and Huckabee at conservative meet in New Hampshire
So you think it's too early to start talking about 2016? You're right. But don't tell the politicians who want to be president that.
In the presidential sweepstakes, it's all about being early - early money, early endorsements, and getting a leg up on your competition by showing up in early primary states.
Just to pass the time with a few friends, of course.
In New Hampshire, at a conservative conference put on by Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity, 3 major presidential prospects showed up so that activists, professional consultants, and big money donors could see them literally side by side and make some snap judgments.
Speakers at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, which was sponsored by Citizens United and Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity, included Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, all of whom would be top tier presidential contenders should they run.
Donald Trump also spoke.Huckabee seemed especially determined to show he could compete for conservative votes against politicians like Paul and Cruz, who have each earned a devoted following among tea party activists. While the two senators mostly stuck to their usual talking points, Huckabee offered an extra large serving of red meat.
“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he said in his remarks. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position, people put hands all over me, and I have to provide photo ID and a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane – but if I want to go vote I don’t need a thing.”
The 2016 campaign will kick off in earnest shortly after midterm elections, when the major candidates have to at least unofficially signal a run or risk losing out on endorsements, donors, and staff. Major players like Jeb Bush on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side have already said they’ll make their final decisions by the end of the year.
But, as Saturday’s event demonstrated, the unofficial primary of forging early connections with voters and elected officials in key caucus and primary states is already well under way. In a state where voters and elected officials expect to personally grill presidential candidates – often several times – before making up their mind, it’s never too early to start.
New Hampshire has a reputation for boosting relative moderates in recent years compared to the socially conservative Iowa caucus that precedes it. Granite State voters went decisively for John McCain in 2000 and 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. There’s also a libertarian streak (“Live Free or Die” being your state slogan will do that) and former Congressman Ron Paul came in second place in 2012, one of his strongest showings.
Rand Paul stands to inherit his father’s considerable activist network, which could give him a leg up over the competition.
Sizing up a potential candidate is a mix of gauging if he could win as well as how much you agree with him. A candidate's appeal to certain voters is also important, which is why the real face off of the event was Cruz vs. Paul:
At a New Hampshire GOP rally on Friday and in his speech to Saturday’s summit, Paul argued that the party needed to bring in young voters, through a focus on Internet privacy rights.
“If we want to grow our movement bigger, that message resonates with young people,” he said.
Paul added Saturday that the party “cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people, and Wall Street” even as he warned Republicans not to shy away from advocating tax cuts for wealthy Americans to spur job growth.
Paul has a relatively pragmatic streak compared to his father and has tried – with mixed results – to avoid the elder Paul’s habit of allying with fringe groups. Supporters hope that this will give him a higher ceiling of support with Republicans who might have dismissed his father as too extreme.
“I think Ron Paul’s vote will split between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz,” New Hampshire state representative David Murotake, who helped organize support for Paul’s 2012 campaign, told msnbc. “What I’m delighted to see is how many non-Ron Paul supporters are looking at Rand.”
As Murotake noted, Cruz has some overlap with Paul in the liberty movement, but his bigger emphasis on social conservatism might be a barrier in the more secular New Hampshire GOP.
I'm not buying that last statement. If Cruz comes off as well as he has shown he can. New Hampshire voters won't care about his social conservatism as much as they would his prospects for victory in November.
In Paul's case, he may pull in not only his father's cadres but a whole new group of Republican voters concerned about government snooping. Since New Hampshire is a non partisan primary and Democrats can vote in it, it will be interesting to see if Paul's brand of conservatism/libertarianism crosses the party divide.
As for Huckabee, how do Republicans feel about a retread from 2012? if Huckabee can win Iowa again, who knows?
For most GOP activists in the party's campaign infrastructure, it's never too early to pick a winner.