Not many hours are left until we close the chapter of the long, hard-fought 2012 presidential election and open the first chapter of the 2016 presidential primaries. Here's one prediction I am very confident in making: Those next primaries are likely to start within hours or days of Tuesday.
If the preponderance of polls is accurate, President Obama looks to be headed for an Electoral College victory, with the national popular vote still in question with a tiny advantage today for him over Mitt Romney. Let's start with that assumption and examine how 2016 might begin to unfold.
Again, the votes will barely have been counted this year before the 2016 race begins. Both parties will be searching in earnest for their next leaders, and potential candidates will start sending some signals very quickly.
First, if the expected happens and Obama wins, he immediately becomes a lame duck. In the aftermath of a bitter and divided election, there will be concerns about who else can appeal to the constituencies that have continually trended away from Democrats -- white voters, married women, rural folks. The big question mark is, what will Hillary Clinton do? She would be the odds-on favorite to win the nomination if she chooses to run, but that remains a very open question. For the Democrats, the primaries pivot off of her decision. If she doesn't run, the Democrats would be smart to find another woman who could be elected president. I have come to believe that only a woman president can begin to bridge all the divides that exist in this country (more on that in a future column).
For the Republicans, the course ahead is probably a bit rougher than what the Democrats face. I would guess that in the aftermath of a Romney loss, a bitter and bloody battle for the heart and soul of the GOP will ensure -- a civil war between the very conservative elements and the less-conservative factions; the economic conservatives and social conservatives; the more populist members and the more establishment folks.
If Romney loses, there will be a tremendous amount of handwringing and anger. This is a race that most Republicans believed was theirs for the taking; they were convinced that Obama was extremely vulnerable. There will be anger from the conservative wing that Republicans nominated someone who wasn't authentically one of them. Less-conservative folks will respond that when the party veers too far to the right, a more moderate approach is needed. The GOP is going to have a difficult time settling this in the short run.
Are we already seeing signs of Republicans positioning themselves in the aftermath of a possible Romney defeat? Many say that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is doing just that. A candidate whom many Republicans wanted to see run in 2012 has been front and center handling the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Working hand-in-hand with President Obama certainly burnishes his bipartisan credentials and leadership skills. Keep your eyes open for other signals sent before Election Day by Republicans getting ready for a possible Romney loss.
While we still have to wait for this very expensive and tight race to be decided, the parties believe that it's never too early to get ready for the beginning of the next marathon in 2016. For most of us, Thanksgiving this year will be spent giving thanks for food and a warm home that some today still don't have. For potential candidates, it probably will be spent talking to their families about the impact of a run for president.