The 2012 election is not over yet, and judging by the polls, it won't even be truly predictable for months. The polls have tightened to a dead heat, the mathematical models for predicting elections are undecided, and the convention season hasn't even concluded. However, whatever the outcome, two facts are inescapable: The Democrats will field a new candidate in 2016, and the primaries leading up to that election will showcase a full bench of ambitious leaders within the party.
Some of the potential contenders -- Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, especially -- are known commodities. Others, such as Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley or New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, are less well-known. All, however, are credible threats, either as challengers to a reigning President Romney, or as people looking to preserve President Obama's legacy after a second term.
So while it may seem premature, TheBlaze decided to take a closer look at the Democratic men and women who may be getting showcased at this year's Democratic National Convention as a prelude to a future run for president, with an eye toward figuring out which are the most formidable contenders for the highest office in the land.
#1. Vice President Joe Biden
Why? Biden is easily the most experienced, known commodity on the Democratic bench, both in terms of legislative experience and in terms of experience at the highest levels of the executive branch. Having been technically qualified for the job for at least 20 years, his ideal selling point would be his status as an elder statesman with ties to blue collar Delaware workers - a far cry from his aloof, relatively inexperienced current superior. If Obama's second term is a success, Biden might be tapped as a "third term" custodian of his legacy.
Why not? Biden may be an elder statesman, but he doesn't act like one, being gaffe-prone and irascible at the best of times. His favorability ratings are worse than President Obama's by a wide margin, and his presence in so many primaries in the past could leave him looking like a has-been. He would also be even older than Ronald Reagan was upon assuming his first term, making him the oldest first-term president in history.
#2. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Why? For many Democrats -- especially those with a fresh memory of 2008 -- Hillary Clinton is "the one that got away." Aside from managing to be respected on a bipartisan basis in Washington for her work as Secretary of State during one of the most polarizing periods in American history, Clinton will have had four years to reinvent herself by 2016, given that she's leaving the administration in 2012.
Why not? Clinton faces exactly the same problem she faced in 2008 -- namely, the question of whether the Democrats want to re-litigate the battles of the Clinton years. However, given the nostalgia with which even Republicans are beginning to look on those years, a lot of the fiery anti-Clinton opposition that existed in 2008 may have flamed out by 2016. Clinton also would face an age question, given that she would be 69 while running -- precisely the same age that Reagan was when he first ran.
#3. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Why? It's admittedly unusual for people to jump from being mayor of a city to President of the United States. However, Emanuel is no ordinary mayor. As a former White House chief of staff, one of the most infamously ruthless leaders ever to grace Congress, and a man who still remains a close confidante of the current President, Emanuel could easily parlay his connections into a plausible run. If he does run and loses, look for him to crop up at the bottom of the ticket.
Why not? Emanuel is still only a mayor, and as Rudy Giuliani's run for president shows, that's not necessarily enough to win. It's also unclear how he would be able to call in favors if Joe Biden is running, given that the latter would probably inherit a good chunk of President Obama's campaign staff. Emanuel might make the calculation to wait until 2020, when he will still be only 61.
#4. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Why? Cuomo is something of a dark horse relative to his competition. However, in the event that President Obama loses this year, Cuomo would come into the 2016 race with a serious edge - namely, he is the polar opposite of Obama governance-wise. Despite running one of the most reliably blue states in the nation, Cuomo has been leery of cozying up to Democratic liberal ideology. He held off raising taxes for almost an entire year in New York, has slashed spending, and cracked down on unions. His one liberal accomplishment -- getting gay marriage legalized in New York -- was accomplished with Republican votes. In a Democratic party seeking to return to its Clintonian glory days, Cuomo might be just the man. His father, erstwhile liberal hero and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, could also provide some ideological cover if necessary.
Why not? Cuomo's election prospects are somewhat tied to the success (or failure) of Mitt Romney. If Obama wins a second term, Cuomo will come off weaker. If Obama's second term isn't a disaster, Cuomo is much weaker, since you don't fix what isn't broken. On the other hand, if Romney wins and has a good first term, Cuomo becomes plausible, though even then, Democrats might be too wounded and angry to pick a compromiser.
#5. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley
Why? O'Malley is the ultimate generic Democrat, and if the party's image seems damaged in 2016, or if they want to pick a nominee with comparatively few risks, he would be an easy choice. His convention speech, despite being lackluster, showed a man ready to run for office, even if the party wasn't ready for him. His hardball approach could also endear him to a Democratic party sick of compromise.
Why not? O'Malley's convention speech was underwhelming, and he lacks the starpower of Biden or Clinton, while also not possessing the reformer's spirit of Cuomo. In short, barring some extraordinary developments in the next four years, he's a second tier candidate waiting to happen.
Bonus: President Barack Obama
Why? Some readers are probably confused at this point. How could Obama run in 2016? Isn't he term-limited? Yes, he is, assuming he wins this year. However, if Mitt Romney wins, Obama could still have a case to make four years down the road, especially if Romney's first term turns out poorly. He wouldn't be the first Democrat to do this -- Grover Cleveland managed it in 1892 -- but he would be the first modern Democrat to try. Then again, being historic has never seemed to pose a problem to President Obama.
Why not? He may be term limited out of office, or he may decide it's not worth trying to get the job back, or the Democrats may decide they don't want to run the same horse twice after he lost. They didn't run Jimmy Carter in 1984, and unless Romney's first term is a disaster, Obama would probably prefer to lay low.