With 2012 election done, field wide open for 2016 presidential tickets

The result of the 2012 election is finally known: President Obama won a decisive re-election to a second term. But for those still itching for a political guessing game, there's always 2016.

The fields on both sides are wide open for the next election.

Democrats have no shortage of candidates who appear capable of picking up the party's mantle after Obama: Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are at the top of that list.

And there are plenty of Republicans potentially lining up to launch White House bids after Mitt Romney's loss Tuesday -- with vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan now high on most lists, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Other Republican possibilities include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Christie, a first-term governor, was one of the top names tossed around early in the 2012 cycle but he never warmed to the idea of running, saying he was focused on serving New Jersey. Like Romney, he's a Northeast Republican from a blue state, but his fiery temperament is the polar opposite of Romney's.

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But Christie also faced some Republican criticism for his convention keynote, which some said touted the keynoter more than the presidential nominee. And Christie recently was put in the politically awkward position of praising the opposing party's president when Obama helped New Jersey with disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy. Christie lashed back at critics for suggesting he should put politics above helping his state's storm victims, and he denied Wednesday that he had given Obama an "embrace" over the storm.

Ryan, the Republicans' House budget guru, got time in the national spotlight as Romney's running mate and is considered personally likable. Even Obama remarked that he’s a “good man” and a “family man,” though the president disagrees with his “vision of America.”

Democrats, however, have cast him as extreme on a range of issues, most notably Medicare, which his budget plan would eventually convert to a voucher-based system for future beneficiaries. Ryan has countered that Democrats have offered no credible plan for reforming -- and saving -- the entitlement program for seniors.

The Republican Party already is taking a look at the reasons Romney wasn't successful this year and how to position the party's next candidate to win in 2016. The outcome of the struggle between the party's establishment and its more conservative Tea Party wing could be critical in deciding what kind of candidate gets the nomination in four years, and there has been talk about the need to broaden the base, given the country's growing Hispanic population and national shifts on social issues, such as gay marriage.

“A successful 2012 Republican candidate will need to appeal to Latinos to a greater extent than Romney did in 2012,” said Taylor Griffin, a Republican strategist with Washington-based Hamilton Place Strategies.

Griffin points out Republican presidential nominees over the past few election cycles are winning a lower percentage of Hispanic votes, as that population continues to become a larger part of the electorate.

He notes that Romney won roughly 27 percent of that voting bloc, compared with George W. Bush winning 44 percent in 2004. Obama appears to have won roughly 71 percent Tuesday, helping him to victory.

“I expect the numbers will be higher than that in 2016,” Griffin said. “And that tells us Republicans have to perform as well as Bush.”

He also pointed out that women voters -- considered more moderate on social issues -- comprise 53 percent of the electorate, and 55 percent voted for Obama this year.

Clinton, suggesting she lacks the enthusiasm for another tough political face-off, has vowed not to run again for elected office, but she has not completely shut the door.

If she were to run, she could face lingering questions about the attack Sept. 11 in Libya, in which a U.S. ambassador and three Americans were killed in a terror strike on two U.S. outposts in Benghazi.

Clinton has taken full responsibility for the Libya tragedy, but the findings of a State Department investigation are not due until at least next month.

Biden said Tuesday at a polling station that he didn't think he was casting a vote for himself for the last time. But the 69-year-old vide president, like Clinton, already has lived through failure on the presidential primary trail, and both might yield to younger candidates, like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley or West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who on Tuesday won his first full term and appears to have bipartisan appeal.

Clinton and Biden are “at the far end of the age spectrum,” said Stephen Hess, a former Eisenhower and Nixon administration staffer and scholar at the Brookings Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Hess also thinks New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a potential 2016 candidate.

“She’s found a way to be in the middle of the Democratic spectrum,” he said. “And a senator re-elected from one the largest states in the country is always a prospect.”

But Republicans appear to have a deeper bench in the governorships. In additional to Christie, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Nikki Haley of South Carolina have been mentioned as possible presidential candidate.