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2016 Election Gets Its First Endorsement

Did you think the seemingly endless 2012 presidential election started way too soon? If so, you weren’t alone. But we may think back on that long slog as a brief interlude long before we get to November 2016. Though the discussion about the next presidential election began even before Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, the 2016 race may have begun for all intents and purposes yesterday when the first official endorsement was announced. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said she was backing Hillary Clinton in an official statement that was posted on the ReadyforHillary.com website. McCaskill’s backing for Clinton is hardly a surprise but the timing may indicate a deliberate strategy on the part of the former first lady and secretary of state. The announcement may be the first of a series of high-profile endorsements that will occur at regular intervals over the course of the next year as Clinton seeks to do something that only incumbent presidents can generally aspire to: clear the field of all serious competition among Democrats.

Clinton’s not the only likely presidential contender making noises these days. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who shapes up as a first-tier candidate for the Republican nod, has been concentrating on his re-election race this year. But this morning on “Morning Joe” he showed he was thinking 2016 by taking a shot at President Obama for what seemed like the first time since Hurricane Sandy when he mocked his belated “charm offensive” with the GOP.

But both Clinton and Christie (whose late night TV appearances have kept him in the public eye even on days when he’s not making news), might want to pause and consider whether their high profile this early in the run-up to 2016 is entirely a good thing. Clinton’s favorability ratings have dropped drastically since leaving the State Department and returning, albeit sparingly, back into the political fray. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll may indicate that the best thing for a 2016 contender would be to keep their profile low at this incredibly early stage of the contest.

Gallup shows that of the most likely Republican candidates the one who has had the least publicity in the first half of 2013 is the one with the highest net favorability ratings. Surprisingly, after six months in which Christie and Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have rarely been out of the limelight while the 2012 vice presidential candidate has been hard to find in either the headlines or the talk shows, Paul Ryan leads those other contenders by a large margin when it comes to favorability among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

Ryan has a whopping 69 percent favorability rating and a net favorability (which deducts the unfavorable numbers from the total of those who like the person) of 57 percent. Rubio is second in both categories with a 57 percent favorability number and a net of 47 percent. Rand Paul was third with 56 percent and 43 percent.

But perhaps just as interesting are the numbers of the other two politicians rated in the poll.

Chris Christie’s favorability numbers are competitive with a 53 percent rating. But he has the highest unfavorable ratings of the quintet with 25 percent of those GOP sympathizers saying they don’t like him. That resulted in Christie having a very low 28 percent net favorability that placed him in dead last.

As for Ted Cruz, he may have become among the most well known figures in Washington during the freshman senator’s six months in office. But though his penchant for mussing up the hair of both Republicans and Democrats has made him the darling of the Tea Party set and the liberal media’s unofficial public enemy No. 1, he hasn’t yet penetrated the national consciousness as much as the other Republicans. Cruz has the lowest favorability number at 40 as well as having the lowest number of unfavorable answers at only eight percent. But that’s because a clear majority of Republicans—52 percent—have not yet formed an opinion of Cruz.

There is still a very long way to go until the first primary and caucus votes are cast at the start of 2016, and all these numbers will fluctuate until then. But it is a fact that the more Clinton is out in the open—something that the ongoing murmurings about Benghazi and the State Department scandals on her watch will make inevitable—the more her image will be tarnished.

That might not encourage any Democrat to try and derail her effort to become the first female major party presidential nominee. But the same factor will influence the lead-up to the GOP race.

I don’t doubt that by the time we get to 2015, when the presidential race will really take off, more Republicans will have made up their minds about Cruz. But while conservatives would be foolish to write off Christie’s chances, resistance to him on the right does complicate his path to the nomination. If Ryan does intend to run in 2016—something that is still very much in doubt in contrast to the near certainty about Rubio, Paul and Christie—his decision to lay low this year may prove to be very wise.