Here's to the winners! But who are they exactly, after the recent Republican sweep into power in the Senate and in a significant majority of governorships?
On the latter, the incumbent Chair of the Republican Governors Conference, Chris Christie of New Jersey, took a modest "victory lap" for his efforts in support of major "Blue State" wins by the GOP candidates in Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois, not to mention important victories by Republican incumbents in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. The New Jersey Governor certainly traveled widely and raised money handsomely for some of these winners, but that does not mean he moves to the front of the statehouse line for his party's 2016 presidential nomination.
Surely Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has now won three consecutive elections, including a recall attempt, against the Democrats in a "Purple" state, will not credit his win to Christie. Far from it. He was less than pleased that Christie cut back on funding from the GOP Governor's Conference for his campaign. And Walker has also won the race to be the first to get an "exclusive" interview on Meet the Press (but does that program matter still?), presumably because Chuck Todd wanted him more than Christie or the other governors.
Among the other Republican governors, John Kasich of Ohio looks even more attractive now because he won again in the ultimate Electoral College "swing state." He has adroitly positioned himself to take credit for most of the good things happening in that state other than LeBron James' return (and maybe even that!), while managing to institute policies not unlike Walker's without continuing to offend so many people. Why pick Christie who could wind up losing even his home state of New Jersey in 2016 to Clinton, according to current opinion polls, when the GOP could pick up a possibly decisive electoral win in Ohio or Wisconsin?
Same goes for Rick Perry of Texas, who is sporting new "serious thinker" eyewear, but whose state did not cover itself in glory in terms of the Ebola "outbreak." He went on a European field trip while the problem peaked. Christie also messed this up a bit too, calling the momentarily famous Maine nurse "obviously" sick when she obviously wasn't. Perry suffers from the "safe state syndrome" that puts Texas safely in the GOP electoral count, with or without him. Plus he has Ted Cruz in the Senate who can deliver even more Tea Party bombast to the ticket. Staying in the southwest, however, Governors Martinez of New Mexico and Sandoval of Nevada (no, not Pablo, but he has an even better Fall season) may have helped themselves in terms of vice-presidential consideration with easy wins with support from their Hispanic voter brethren who the GOP may need to court in 2016 depending on the outcome of coming immigration showdown with President Obama.
As to the rumored entry into the 2016 race of former Governor George Pataki of New York? As they say in Brooklyn - "fageddaboutit!"
Looking next at the GOP senators who gaze in the mirror and see a president, Kentucky's Rand Paul seems to have won the most from the election results, even when candidates he campaigned for didn't win (like Scott Brown in New Hampshire). The only Republican with "metrosexual" appeal (the '30s Hollywood shades, blazers and slacks, and unruly hair), Paul has reached out to single women and blacks as well as younger voters, who show signs of not being permanently enthralled with Democrats and whom some may think have run an economy, that for all the recent good data on jobs and GDP, has kept them living at Mom and Dad's for far too long. On the international relations front, too, Senator Paul's view that ISIS should face mainly "local" boots on the ground obviously has appeal to younger voters that may prove to outweigh the venerable McCain/Graham war hawk wing of the GOP. At the least, Senator Paul actually has a foreign policy. Unless he wants to overly mend fences with Israel, expect Paul to be relatively quiet about an Obama nuclear deal with Iran while the rest of his Party's likely candidates go ballistic about it, but are silently thankful that they won't have to campaign in favor of an Iran war, too.
Speaking of ballistic, Ted Cruz will commandeer the nearest flamethrower in the Senate chambers, while new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deftly mans the fire extinguisher. Yet frustrated Tea Party members may hand Cruz some surprising early primary victories -- he's running for sure. Cruz will side with Rush Limbaugh and the National Review in pushing the GOP precisely not to try proving they can "govern" over the next two years but rather just keep "obstructing" Obama and then urge voters to give them both the White House and Congress in 2016 as the only way to break DC gridlock. But even if they could get to 1600 PA Ave in '16 with the right candidate, the GOP chances of holding the Senate in 2016 look as bad as the Democrats proved to be in 2014, because of the electoral map. Nonetheless, Dr. Ben Carson's probably in this camp as well, since he's in no position as an outsider to show he can "govern" anyway, but he will soon have his own video infomercial.
The guess here is that Senator Rob Portman of Ohio probably isn't going to run despite his own solid credentials. Kasich, his home state's governor, is better positioned, and Portman would step back if Jeb Bush runs, anyway (and be in his Cabinet at a very high level). That leads us to the House and Congressman and former VP candidate Paul Ryan, who will be a central figure in the coming budget negotiations, perhaps too central given the GOP commitment to massive cuts in social welfare programs and entitlements. Like Portman, he too has a home state governor (Walker) who surely thinks he is now in line ahead of the mere Congressman, especially when one of the key GOP talking points for 2015-16 will be the need for "executive experience" in the White House, post-Obama.
Jeb Bush has that and more: a GOP home state governor who is not running for President, a foreign policy and fund-raising apparatus second to none, a Bush 43 with a reputation that has improved with absence, but also an immigration stance that is out of step with his Party's. But the prevailing wisdom that the GOP won this round by being more "moderate" than before should encourage him. At the very least, he will have a lot of potential Vice Presidents to choose from in the above list of hopefuls and wannabes.
No so the Democrats. Quick, can you name the likely running mate candidates for Hillary? Can you name one? Biden? The Clintons and Obama have left the Democrats' talent "bench" looking like a basketball team (the JV's) facing off against a GOP hockey team ready to change on the fly. Three of their best up-and-coming politicians are women: Warren, Gillibrand and Klobuchar. But these Senators are all from safely Blue states that are already in Clinton's electoral count, so she is unlikely to take any risk of a two-female ticket "first," and keep the focus on her own "first" status. Moreover, the Constitution prohibits a Gillibrand VP candidacy so long as Clinton is also a New York resident. The same applies to Governor Cuomo.
As for the other "mentionable" men: Governor McNally of Maryland wants to shine, but left his state in the hands of a Republican. Governor Brashear of Tennessee comes to mind; he has been a reformer and knows health care, but not many know him. And then there are the two Senators from Virginia, a state Clinton will surely need to win. Senator Mark Warner, a smart centrist with a genuine world view worthy of a President, might have been first in line with a stronger victory, but Ed Gillespie darn near beat him (possibly with his last-minute "Hail to the Redskins" commercial.) The guess here is that Senator Tim Kaine, former DNC Chair, like Warner, an ex-Governor but also a Catholic who has taken a careful stance on the ISIS war, would be at the top of Hillary's list.
And without Hillary as the presidential nominee, the Democratic bench sort of speaks for itself - and none too loudly.
Terry Connelly is an economic expert and dean emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Terry holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and global head of investment banking at Cowen & Company. In conjunction with Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Terry co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education.