FOX News First:  Jan. 26
By Chris Stirewalt

GOP’S TOP 10: INTRODUCING THE FOX NEWS FIRST 2016 POWER INDEX
Yes, yes. We know. It is 53 weeks until the start of the first 2016 nominating contest and more than six months until the first Republican presidential debate. But despite a lot of big talk about contenders waiting until later to jump in, two big-name candidate forums and a spate of buzz-generating announcements over the past weekend proved that there would be no delay in the start of this cycle. And so the time has come for the making of lists and the inaugural Fox News First 2016 Power Index.

[Watch Fox: It’s go time. “Special Report with Bret Baier” is live from Des Moines, Iowa at 6 p.m. ET.]

Short list, indeed - The Power Index for Democrats is a lot simpler because there is only one spot. In deference to her enormity within the party, Hillary Clinton, possessed of a pre-fab campaign designed to be scaled out to a $2 billion crusher of Obama-like underdog dreams, has no serious rivals. She may draw a palooka or two to help her tune up for the title match, but Democrats are so far mostly unwilling to do anything that might endanger her undisputed frontrunner status – though she and President Obama still have some issues to sort out. And while the empty field is a testament to the party’s shallow bench and Clinton’s power, it’s also evidence of real concerns about her general election viability. Her ham-fisted performance in the rollout of her campaign book last year sent chills down many Democratic spines. If things change, we’ll start ranking Democrats. But for now, it’s a party of one.

[“You know I sit back there and I listen and I help write the ideas in the [State of the Union address] and I know it all... and I got to pay attention. And [wife Jill Biden] said, ‘Welcome to the club.’ And I said ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Welcome to the Good Wives Club.’” – Vice President Joe Biden in an interview on “Ellen” set to air today.]

Fine print - The following list of 10 candidates could easily stretch to two dozen, so it does not pretend to be comprehensive. Nor does it pretend to be predictive of who the nominee will be, instead it is focused on who is the frontrunner at this writing. Factors including poll performance, fundraising prowess, campaign organization and an individual’s political skills all go into this (very subjective) ranking. Today’s list gives us a starting place. In the weeks to come, we will update rankings on Mondays, pointing out major moves up, down or out. You likely disagree with some or all of it. That’s good! You should let us know what you think at FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM We will share some of the best responses here. Now let’s get to listing.

1) MITT ROMNEY
Romney opens the season as the frontrunner for his place in the polls, his organization, his fundraising network and, most importantly, his name recognition. But the weeks to come pose a challenging question for the man considering a third White House run: There is no question that Republicans like Romney a lot more than they like President Obama, but do they like him more than anyone in the crowded field of those seeking their party’s nomination? Romney has made a strong argument for why he should be president now but is still sketching out why he, and not one of the others, should be president two years hence. Romney’s recent remarks about global warming suggest he is taking a different approach than his 2012 run when he was accused of pandering to conservative voters. A more direct pitch may earn him points for candor or it may just be Huntsmaning, in which a candidate seeks a party’s nomination by publicly disputing the party’s positions.

[Livin’ on the edge - WaPo: Mitt’s favorite snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of chocolate milk.]

Holy man - NYT: “Three years ago, Mr. Romney’s tortured approach to his religion — a strategy of awkward reluctance and studied avoidance that all but walled off a free-flowing discussion of his biography — helped doom his campaign. (The subject is still so sensitive that many, including the prominent Republican, would only discuss it on condition that they not be identified.) But now as Mr. Romney mulls a new run for the White House, friends and allies said, his abiding Mormon faith is inextricably tied to his sense of service and patriotism, and a facet of his life that he is determined to embrace more openly in a possible third campaign.”

2) JEB BUSH
It is a testament to the clout of the Republican establishment (and the power of famous names) that the first and second spots on the list go to members of the same tribe. But Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush certainly earns his high ranking. It’s also partly a reflection of the fact that the cream has yet to rise from among the more conservative members of the party. Bush has already demonstrated his clout by being the one who fired the starting pistol to begin the race with a Facebook post before Christmas. The big issue for Bush, however, remains whether he, 13 years after his last campaign, has the agility and endurance to face down what will be a very bruising process. Bush, who said that a winning Republican presidential candidate might have to “lose the primary” to win in November, hasn’t yet done much outreach to the GOP base, something at which his establishmentarian brother excelled.

[Does he feel deflated? - Daily Signal: “[Bush] was reportedly considered to be a candidate for NFL commissioner in 2006, but turned it down to finish out his term as governor.”]

Hill rats - National Journal: “In interviews with members of the Florida congressional delegation and senators with ties to the previous two Bush administrations, none could name a member of Congress who was actively promoting Bush's candidacy on Capitol Hill. The silence around Bush's potential candidacy in the halls of the Capitol is surprising, particularly for someone viewed by many as an ‘establishment’ candidate, a quintessential party insider…Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee and served in the state Legislature while Bush was governor, said he had no idea that Bush was going to be in Washington last week…By contrast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited Washington just a day after Bush and met with 25 House Republicans, according to the Bergen County Record.”

3) RAND PAUL
Paul has been running longer than almost anyone in the race and has the field operation and fundraising network to prove it. While other candidates were daydreaming about potential campaigns, Paul, using the skeleton of his father’s organization, was actually doing it. Paul also took steps – like forging an unlikely alliance with fellow Kentuckian Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and eschewing moves by conservatives in the Senate to trigger government shutdowns – to make himself more palatable to the establishment. But can Paul keep up the straddle? The base will want loud reassurances and Paul, famous for his reserved demeanor, hasn’t shown himself willing. The biggest threat to Paul’s presidential ambitions, though, remains foreign policy. As primary voters bristle as perceived weakness in the Obama administration, Paul’s “peace through strength” doctrine will prove an endlessly attractive target for his rivals.

[Not just Aqua Buddha - Fiscal Times: Rand was on the high school swim team as well as the football team as a defensive back.]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch - WaPo: “They are a father and son tied together – but running in opposite directions. Rand, 52, is contemplating a presidential run – at its heart, an act of optimism. He is moderating some hard-line positions and introducing himself to donors and voters. At the same time, Ron, 79, has embraced a role as libertarianism’s prophet of doom, telling his supporters that the United States is headed for catastrophes — and might actually need catastrophes to get on the right track. Which puts Rand Paul in the unusual position of trying to win over the country while his father says it is going down the tubes.”

4) SCOTT WALKER
Getting elected governor of a blue state as a Republican is pretty impressive. Getting elected three times in four years is downright amazing. But can Scott Walker take his lunch-pail conservatism and budget-cutting, government-union-busting zeal to the national stage? Early indications are that he is the leader of the clutch of candidates looking to find a path between the two titans of the establishment and a crowded clutch of conservatives. While Republicans are keen to show their blue-collar cred after underwhelming support from those voters in 2012, Walker is hard to picture raising the first toast in white tie and tails at a state dinner. Maybe they will serve brats.

[B.G.O.C. - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Walker attended Marquette University for four years though never graduated, though he is hoping to finish his degree online soon.]

How he stole the show in Iowa - Slate’s John Dickerson says Walker used a combination of stagecraft and identification with middle-class voters to wow them in Des Moines: “Walker took the stage with a handheld microphone and walked across it as he spoke—making sure the audience got the point by saying he was causing trouble for the photographers trying to keep up with him. … The message was: I’m one of you. For a party competing over how to talk to middle-class voters while fashioning a response to President Obama’s appeal to them, this wasn’t a bad way to connect with voters who often care most about whether a candidate understands their lives.”

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE…
If you’re in the Northeast and feeling oppressed as the winter bears down on you, consider the plight of the Vikings. Happily ensconced on Greenland since the first 980s, a cold snap dubbed the “Little Ice Age” descended on the hardy Norsemen, driving them from their island settlements. “The cooling started around the year 1100, dropping 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) in 80 years, according to scientific studies. The change could have shortened the crop growing season and increased sea-ice levels, making trade and sailing difficult. ‘Suddenly year after year, you go into this cooling trend, and the summers are getting shorter and colder and you can’t make as much hay.’ [researcher William D’Andrea said.] ‘You can imagine how that particular lifestyle may not be able to make it.’” The cold may not have been the only reason for the Norse to vacate the premises researchers admit, pointing to other factors including combative relationships with their neighbors and a sedentary lifestyle.

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 45.8 percent//Disapprove – 49.2 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 32.2 percent//Wrong Track – 58.8 percent

5) TED CRUZ
The freshman senator from Texas has a clear message for his 2016 rivals: show me, don’t tell me. In just three years on the national stage, Ted Cruz has left no question about his conservative credentials. He has used his Senate perch to torture the GOP establishment, spraying chaff into the legislative process to prove his points. And, the best bona fide of all for the Republican right, he drives liberals absolutely batty. The question Cruz will face is whether he can broaden his appeal. There’s a reason the Republican establishment has picked almost every nominee, and it’s mostly because conservatives can’t agree on their choice until long after the moderate wing of the party has already called a truce. Cruz will need to show he is a coalition builder, not just a double-dog-darer. He’s off to a potent start, but could he be the conservative answer to Barack Obama?

[The pay’s better too - Washington Times: Cruz dream job would be as the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets.]

Rock and roll - Fox News Latino: “Cruz received thunderous applause with calls to repeal fully President Barack Obama’s health care law, lock down of the southern border, handcuff environmental regulators and abolish the IRS. Cruz used his remarks to gather details on activists by having them text message the word 'Constitution' to a number he gave out.”

6) MARCO RUBIO
Marco Rubio is proving to be the bumblebee candidate of 2016: Everybody keeps saying why his campaign will never fly and yet he keeps buzzing. Rubio’s tenacity is earning accolades as he gets ready to launch. Rubio has been written off over and over again, starting when the immigration deal he helped author turned radioactive, and most recently when mentor Jeb Bush jumped into the race. If the two-way tussle at the top continues, it’s hard to think of anyone better positioned to take advantage than Rubio. He has, outside of that glaring exception, a strong track record with conservatives and an entrée with the establishment because of his biography and that very immigration bill. If Bush can push Romney out of the race is short order, though, you can bet he will get busy swatting his home-state rival.

[Not a Mormon - Saint Peters Blog: Rubio was extremely fond of The Osmonds as a child.]

Hawks’ delight - Rubio doubled  down on his posture as a national security candidate at Sunday’s Freedom Partners debate with Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, arguing against defense cuts. “Try economic growth while you’re under attack,” Rubio said. Rubio has hammered the Obama administration and hasn’t been shy about touting his foreign policy creds in contrast to other potential 2016 GOP rivals. National Journal: ‘“The next president of the United States needs to be someone that has a clear view of what's happening in the world, a clear strategic vision of America's role in it, and a clear tactical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ the Florida senator said to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington. ‘And I think for governors, that’s going to be a challenge initially because they don’t deal with foreign policy on a daily basis.’”

7) CHRIS CHRISTIE
The operatic twist and turns of Chris Christie’s love affair with the presidency are legendary. Who else can boast that they have been the unanimously selected frontrunner and total roadkill? Those who have counted Christie out, though, have done so prematurely. He’s got rich friends and a willingness to ask people for their votes, something other candidates may be too dainty to do. As he demonstrated in Jerry Jones’ skybox, Christie is not afraid to put himself out there. Note well that Christie didn’t mind going to hostile turf to woo right-wing conservatives in Iowa on Saturday. The challenge, though, is to find a better argument for his nomination than electability itself. That’s a means, not and end.

[Mad as a Blue Hen - Delaware Online: Christie is a University of Delaware alumnus, sharing a common bond with Vice President Joe Biden.]

PAC-man -
Fox News: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken a major step toward a run for president in 2016, forming a political action committee that will allow him to raise money for a possible White House bid. The creation of the committee, called Leadership Matters for America, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal early Monday.

8) RICK PERRY
If the Rick Perry we see today had shown up in 2011, there’s little doubt he would have won the Republican nomination. With the swagger dialed back to “Texas-sized” from “maximum,” and a willingness to put in the sweat equity for a campaign, Perry is much more the man who Republicans hoped to see when his brief stint as frontrunner imploded four years ago. The issue for Perry is whether Republicans feel like giving him a do-over. Like Romney, there’s little doubt that they like him more than they did before. It’s just a question of whether they like him more than all the rest.

[Grew up like a country song - Dallas News: Perry grew up in Paint Creek, Texas in a house that lacked indoor plumbing for the first few years of his life.]

Lawman - San-Antonio [Texas] Express-News: “Former Gov. Rick Perry has said his farewells, framed his Texas legacy and focused his attention on key presidential states like Iowa, where he’s wrapping up a trip Monday before heading to South Carolina, another hunting ground for White House hopefuls. But his fate remains in the hands of a Texas judge who’s expected to rule any day now on whether to throw out a felony indictment accusing Perry of abusing his veto power…”

9) TIE: MIKE HUCKABEE AND RICK SANTORUM
He plays the bass and plays to the base. He’s the famous-named, showman who delights Iowa audiences with his jokes and his straightforward message of social conservatism. But does Mike Huckabee really want to go to war? The fight for the mantle of champion of social conservatism will be a tough one. The man who played the part in 2012, former Sen. Rick Santorum, is back and this time, he has resources and organization. They’re both re-treads, but Santorum certainly has the fire in his belly. Does Huckabee? And how much interest will there be in either one of them with new faces competing for Evangelicals’ attention?

[College man - US News: Huckabee was the first in his family to graduate high school. He went on to complete college in just two and a half years.

Book ‘em - Des Moines Register: “Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke to Iowans on Sunday about the disconnect between middle America and cities that house the heart of finance, politics and entertainment. The event at Walnut Creek Church in Windsor Heights was an opportunity for residents to buy his new book, ‘God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,’ and to have him sign copies. ‘The book title has confused a lot of people,’ Huckabee said. ‘They see God, Guns, Grits and Gravy and they think it's a recipe book for southern cuisine. It is not.’”

[Ricky the Dragon Steamboat - Daily Beast: In his early legal career, Santorum helped deregulate professional wrestling from sport to entertainment.]

Total recall - Bloomberg: “‘I'm not saying shut [unskilled immigration] down, but I will tell you, the last time we had this kind of surge in immigration was the Great Wave between 1880 and 1920, and after that Great Wave, there were two bills that were passed, 1921 and 1924, and they both passed almost unanimously in the House and Senate,’ Santorum said on CNN's ‘State of the Union.’ ‘Why? Because they put politics aside. They did what was best for the American worker.’ The two chief immigration laws enacted in those years were the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. They came after the Literacy Act of 1917 proved insufficiently restrictive in the eyes of lawmakers, as it turned out many immigrants did know how to read. The Emergency Quota Act drastically limited the number of Eastern and Southern Europeans allowed into the country.”

10) BEN CARSON
Is Ben Carson the real deal? The folks in the packed rooms that welcome him in Iowa seem to be believers. Though the retired pediatric neurosurgeon has filled the imaginations of many conservatives, can he go the distance? The campaign apparatus that has sprung up around him has raised a lot of money. But it has also spent enough to burn a wet elephant. If Carson is a quick study, he will be formidable in Iowa and other states where GOP voters are looking for a radical departure from the party’s status quo. If he gets mired in the mechanics of running, however, Carson will have to retreat from the field.

[Lights, camera, action - National Review: Carson has an IDMB page thanks to a short Hollywood stint with appearances in the 2003 film “Stuck on You” and the 2007 film “Gifted Hands.”]

Tell it like it is - National Journal: “Ben Carson said he always feels welcome in Iowa, and it's easy to see why. In a 20-minute speech here to the Iowa Freedom Summit, an early cattle call for potential White House candidates, Carson was on top of his game. The famous neurosurgeon, who is preparing to launch his presidential run in the coming months, delivered a speech that was constantly interrupted by laughter and sustained applause. ‘We cannot allow the progressives to shut us up through political correctness,’ Carson said, drawing roars from the audience. ‘If they want to act like third-graders and call us names, let them.’”

-- ON THE RADAR --

JOHN KASICH
Time enough -
Cleveland [Ohio] Plain Dealer: “Ohio Gov. John Kasich spent last week out West, pushing for balanced budgets and heightening speculation about a presidential bid. The Republican threw a few more logs on the 2016 fire Sunday. ‘Options are still on the table. We'll see,’ Kasich said during a ‘Fox News Sunday’ interview with host Chris Wallace…The jab seemed aimed at other Republicans who, like Kasich, have offered a more compassionate, middle-class message. That list includes Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, two early front-runners who are competing for the GOP’s establishment’s donor base. Kasich also noted that other Republican governors have followed his lead in accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act…The appearance was another signal that Kasich is now openly considering another campaign for the White House. His run 15 years ago ended before the 2000 primary season began, and until last week he had shown little enthusiasm for an encore. While rallying support for a constitutional amendment that would require the federal government to balance its budget, a trip that took Kasich to states such as Wyoming and South Dakota, the governor said he was keeping open his options.”

[Alphabetical outlaws - Cleveland [Ohio] Plain Dealer: After banning the letter M on game days, Kasich a proud Ohio State fan said, “It's a shame Michigan gave up playing football,” on “Fox News Sunday.” Watch more here.]

BOBBY JINDAL
Prayerful -
WDSU: “Gov. Bobby Jindal told a room of Christian Evangelicals this weekend that the nation needs a ‘spiritual revival.’ Those are words Jindal spoke during a prayer rally Saturday in Baton Rouge. It was an event that was attended by hundreds for a day of prayer and repentance. ‘So we're praying and thinking about what comes next,’ Jindal said. ‘Today is all about a spiritual revival. It's not about candidates or endorsements. It's about praying to God. It's about coming together.’ Jindal, who in recent months has been labeled a potential Republican presidential candidate, headlined the prayer rally as people sang and raise their hands. Local authorities believe the event was attended by more than 7,000 people. But the event wasn't without protest. Some gathered outside in opposition of Jindal's decision to have the event funded by the American Family Association. Protesters say the AFA is a historically Christian organization that promotes discrimination against people who are gay or of non-Christian faiths.”

[USA Today: Jindal assisted his wife with the delivery of his third child at home thanks to the help of a nurse on the phone.]

MIKE PENCE
Good friends to have -
WaPo: “[Indiana Gov. Mike Pence] also has powerful boosters encouraging him to seek the presidency, including the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch and media mogul Steve Forbes. For now, he said, he is keeping his head down — though after the legislature adjourns in April, he will assess the 2016 landscape and make a decision. Advisers said Pence would run if he felt his candidacy could fill a void.”

[Nice cats, gross flavor combo - Indiana Governor: Pence has a beagle named Maverick and two cats named Pickle and Oreo.]

And because we wouldn’t want to deny you a kicker…

HOW ABOUT ‘FLUFFERNUTTER?’
Time: “A recently-born baby named Nutella was renamed by a court in the French city of Valenciennes after a judge ruled that the parents’ decision to the name the child after a food was against the child’s interest, according to a new report in the newspaper La Voix Du Nord. ‘The name ‘Nutella’ given to the child is the trade name of a spread,’ the court’s decision read, according to a translation. ‘And it is contrary to the child’s interest to be wearing a name like that can only lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts.’ The judge renamed the child Ella after the parents failed to show up at a court appointed day in November. The baby was born in September.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News.  Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.