12/10/2012 06:03 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Where the Democrats Go Next, or, Pivoting With Hilary

Because it's never too early to talk about the election cycle after the next one. Especially in this era of the permanent campaign.

Yet I suspect that something is going to short-circuit much of the chatter. At least with regard to the Democratic side, until Hillary Clinton is ready to make an announcement about her plans, or lack of same.

Ironically, given the increasingly "sports-talk" character of political coverage, the outcome -- or, more properly, the perceived outcome -- of a complex set of issues will likely be the key to her presidential prospects.

The Asia-Pacific Pivot is the pivot on which the next presidential election may well turn. That's our would-be way out of being entangled in every toxic conflict in a highly conflicted region. You can see an archive of my articles related to the geopolitical pivot from over-engagement with the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central to increased engagement with rising Asia and the Pacific by clicking here.

The Obama administration has other reasons for making the move, of course, namely the importance of the rising Asia-Pacific region and the perceived need to counter would-be superpower China, though of course that last is not how administration officials put it.

The usually interesting Public Policy Polling outfit has a national poll out on 2016.

The outgoing secretary of state has a big lead on the Democratic side. Let's return to that in a moment.

On the Republican side, things are wide open, with nobody much of a favorite, or the favorite nobody much. Freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio emerged with a slight lead over first term New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

It's Rubio at 18 percent to Christie at 14 percent. Close behind in third are former Florida Governor and ex-first brother and first son Jeb Bush and 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan at 12 percent. Even closer behind J. Bush and the young Wisconsin congressman is former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Republican runner-up Mike Huckabee at 11 percent.

Behind this group are former Secretary of State and Stanford Professor Condi Rice at 8 percent, Sarah Palin and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul at 7 percent, and 2012 GOP runner-up Rick Santorum at 4 percent.

Of all these, Christie has the biggest problem with hard right conservatives who have such a huge cultural influence in the party. That may be because of his famous embrace of Obama during Superstorm Sandy. Of course, he faces re-election in mostly Democratic New Jersey first, if he even has an interest in running as a Republican in 2016.

Somebody here might end up more formidable than he or she appears now. It's not impossible.

Things are much more clear-cut on the Democratic side.


Clinton leads Vice President Joe Biden by a stunning 61 percent to 12 percent.

From there, it drops off quickly to 5 percent for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, 4 percent for new Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, 2 percent for Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and 1 percent each for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, and Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Until she decides yea or nay, and I expect yea, the Democratic contest is frozen. And if she goes, it may be over before it begins.

Except for the issue factor.

It took an extraordinary candidate to beat Hillary Clinton in 2008. The future arrived early for Democrats in the form of Barack Obama.

In the natural order of things, he'd have been more likely to emerge as a top presidential prospect in the 2016 election cycle, or even later. That Obama emerged when he did was a function of his extraordinary 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address -- has anyone ever enjoyed a better introduction to the national stage? -- and of his opposition to the Iraq War.

Yes, an actual issue proved to be critical in Obama's defeat of Clinton. He was against the invasion of Iraq; she voted to authorize it.

Typically for this era, there's virtually no discussion of issues in looking at potential presidential Democratic presidential candidates. That's not the inside baseball way of looking at the world, or at least its very reduced universe simulacrum.

But in contrast to 2008, when she was best known, as New York's junior senator and the former first lady, for the misfiring health care reform effort of the '90s and her support of the Iraq War, Hillary Clinton now has a vast and complex body of decisions and opinions on which to be judged. And most of it is still in play, the outcomes uncertain.

While we're out of Iraq, and drawing down after un-cleverly escalating in Afghanistan, there are three, four, five, six, or more potential wars in the Middle East and Central Asia that could take place in the next few years, if not months.

And that's before we get to the other end of the geopolitical pivot, with China claiming virtually the entire South China Sea in contradiction of its neighbors and jousting with Japan over islands in the East China Sea. Not to mention the latest threatening antics from North Korea.

If things go sour, and there are many things that can go wrong, a clever candidate could rub a few words together and light a fire in the Democratic primaries against Clinton.

That said, she's a formidable figure who speaks with a great deal of expertise and authority, more so than in 2008.

And she has a tremendous support base among women voters. It may well be that the cultural pressure to follow the first person of color to be president with the first woman president is too much to overcome, especially in the Democratic Party.

This is before we get to the question of her husband.

As polling even before his smash hit appearance at the Democratic National Convention showed, Bill Clinton is extremely popular. What Bill Clinton did after he stepped on the stage in Charlotte, North Carolina has to win the most valuable player award for national Democrats this year.

Even on her own, Hillary Clinton might be unbeatable in the 2016 primaries. Add to that the former president, and perhaps even Obama himself, grateful for her work in the cabinet and eager to see the geopolitical pivot project proceed through its next phases, and it could be lights out.

But for the X factor that may be lurking even now in the pivot's complexities.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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