Web Video: 2016 presidential hopefuls aim to prove their worth in campaign warm up

Jan. 15, 2015 AT 11:03 a.m. EST
From launching book tours to hiring staff to meeting with top donors, several potential presidential candidates have started taking steps in the long race to the White House. Gwen Ifill looks at the campaign landscape with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL: Just in the past seven days, the 2016 race for president has moved from mostly theoretical to quite substantial.

In a minute, we will analyze that campaign landscape, but, first, a brief look at the action of just the past week and where things stand at the moment.

The 2016 field is already crowded, with nearly two dozen potential candidates all jockeying for position. But set aside that entire group for a moment. This past week, about half of that field made significant moves. We start alphabetically with the Republicans.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is meeting with top GOP donors and his leadership PAC is now up and running. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is planning to set up his own fund-raising PAC as early as this month, according to The New York Times. Next, another former governor, Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee, released a book last week, a now predictable part of running for president.

Another state leader, former New York Governor George Pataki, told The Boston Globe this week he is seriously considering a bid. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced yesterday that he has hired a presidential campaign manager. And upending this entire process, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney told a group of donors last week that he is considering a third run for the Oval Office.

Then there is Marco Rubio, who also released a new book just yesterday. Rounding out the field, former Senator Rick Santorum brought his former campaign staff together to meet in Washington this week.

For the Democrats, all eyes are on Hillary Clinton, who’s starting to put some key staff on the payroll, including a pollster who worked for President Obama and John Podesta, who is expected to leave the Obama White House this spring.

So, joining us now to discuss this whirlwind of activity are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post.

Why, all of a sudden, is all of this happening?


GWEN IFILL: It feels like the new year kicked in and everybody kicked in.


AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: This is not surprising at all.

In fact, it’s what we saw in 2007. By the time we hit February, the end of February, we had John McCain and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had all announced. But this is a multimillion-dollar operation that these people are putting together.

You don’t raise that kind of money overnight. You don’t put the staff together just in a couple of months. This takes a great deal of time and effort to put together this kind of operation.

GWEN IFILL: So, Nia, is this driven by competition or by the need to raise the money?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, The Washington Post: Well, it’s both, really.

And that’s why a lot of these conversations are going on among donors. Mitt Romney goes to donors and says, I want to be president. Marco Rubio is going to get his gang together down in Florida next weekend to figure out where they are and what his viability is going forward. It really is about raising, what, a billion dollars you have got to raise. And you have got to make the case to these donors that you are a worthy investment. And so that’s what’s going on right now, the invisible primary.

AMY WALTER: And it doesn’t hurt — that’s right. And it doesn’t hurt to try to scare off your competitors, too.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Which is part of what is going on.

GWEN IFILL: But let’s start with the big surprise, Mitt Romney. Third time’s the charge — charm, he’s hoping, but really?


AMY WALTER: We talk to people around him and they say, really. He was a — yes, in 2013, he said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not going to do this.

AMY WALTER: And Ann Romney made it very clear she didn’t want him to do this again.


AMY WALTER: 2014 comes around, he was a very sought-after surrogate on the campaign trail. He went and campaigned for a lot of successful 2014 candidates.

There was adoration for him. He saw I what life could like as a national candidate again, a lot of people saying, Mitt, you did such a great job. Just imagine if you had been president. None of this bad stuff would have happened.

So, now he’s reassessing, seriously reassessing.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and Jeb Bush, honestly, was reassessing, too, because only a few months ago, he was sending signals that he wasn’t interested. His mother was sending signals that he wasn’t interested.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And he always pretty much had that same line, that, oh, he would have to consult with his wife, his family wasn’t quite on board, including his mom.

And then I think what’s happened is, he’s obviously had a change of heart. And Mitt Romney’s had a change of heart. Partly, I think, they’re looking across the aisle, looking at Hillary Clinton, and figuring maybe she isn’t as strong as her poll numbers suggest. They’re also looking at this field where someone like Chris Christie doesn’t look as strong as he used to look maybe a year or two ago.

And they’re also looking at, like we talked about, this landscape in politics where you have got to make a credible case that you can raise a billion dollars. And over the last years, who has been able to do that? Bush — the Bush family has been able to do that and Romney has been able to do that.

And I also think, if you get back to Romney, Romney, I think, looks at what happened in 2012, the map — he got clobbered with the sort of electoral map. But in terms of votes, it was five million. And I think he’s looking and say, well, you switch a few here and there, maybe it would look different.

GWEN IFILL: Where are the fresh new faces, if I can be forgiven?


GWEN IFILL: We have a Clinton. We have a Bush. We have a Romney. And we have a Santorum. We have a Huckabee. We have a lot of people who have run for president before. What is different?

AMY WALTER: So, what this suggests, if I’m a Republican governor, I’m actually not very nervous right now, because what I would be looking at is, fine, let these guys go out there, put themselves out front.

I know that the public is looking for something new. In fact, we were just talking about this. You talk to voters out there, you listen to focus groups, there’s a hunger right now for somebody that is new and different.

GWEN IFILL: So, if you’re Scott Walker or Bobby — I’m going to get as many names in as possible — if you’re Scott Walker or Bobby Jindal or Chris Christie, you’re sitting back…

AMY WALTER: Or John Kasich from Ohio.

GWEN IFILL: Or John Kasich.

AMY WALTER: People like Snyder, maybe, who knows, who are not family names — well-known names, but who are well-positioned, in that they’re not part of Washington, they’re new, fresh faces.


AMY WALTER: They have executive experience, and they can potentially parlay that into success.

They’re not going to be able to show that they can raise the money quite yet, but if they get a little bit of momentum, it’s funny. The donors seem to follow.

GWEN IFILL: Now, as you mentioned, both — all of these folks are looking across the aisle at Hillary Clinton and they’re thinking to themselves, she’s beatable, right?

So, is she? Who else is rising on the Democratic side who would give her a run?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Well, you know, that’s funny you should ask. Maybe Jim Webb, who ran for senator in Virginia, 2006, didn’t win by much and decided not to run again, because I think he felt like, A, he doesn’t really like politics, and maybe he wasn’t going to win.

He’s now talking about really looking at working-class white men and that that would be the way he is able to have an edge against Hillary Clinton. But if you look at how he did among white men, didn’t do so well in that race, did about as well as any other Democrat.

Maybe somebody like Martin O’Malley, the former governor — the outgoing governor of Maryland, somebody like that. Bernie Sanders, who’s a socialist. But hard to see how they really challenge Hillary. I think if you talk to folks in that Hillary campaign…

GWEN IFILL: You didn’t mention Elizabeth Warren.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Elizabeth Warren, right.

Well, Elizabeth Warren isn’t really mentioning Elizabeth Warren.

GWEN IFILL: She keeps saying no, but her name doesn’t go away.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: She keeps saying no.

You’re right. She keeps saying no, no, no. I don’t know if she’s said no as many times as Mitt Romney had, but I think the question about Elizabeth Warren, is she kind of a boutique liberal or is she a liberal in the mold of Barack Obama who could really reshape the Democratic Party? Could she get African-American voters and that coalition on the ascendance?


If you look at the Hillary world, it matters who you’re hiring and who’s coming on your side. And a lot of these folks, we assume, are lining up for one of the candidates at this point. So, we have seen a little bit of movement on this. How much of it is significant is it that she has hired President Obama’s pollster, that he has hired his ad men, and that apparently John Podesta is going to be leaving the White House to go work for her?

AMY WALTER: One of the biggest criticisms against Hillary Clinton in the 2000 campaign was that she was too insular. She was relying on the Bill Clinton group to come and give her advice. She needed to get outside that bubble.

So, she’s doing that by hiring the Obama team. Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem is certainly not in the primary. There’s no empirical evidence that I have seen yet that there’s a hunger for a fresh face on the Democratic side, like there is on the Republican side.

At the same time, history is not kind to a candidate trying to be a third term. For Democrats, if you don’t count FDR, which I do not, you have to go back to the 1830s. It is a tough, tough, tough thing to do.

GWEN IFILL: I hate sports analogies, but spring training seems to apply here.


GWEN IFILL: This is exactly what this is.

Amy Walter, Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you both.


AMY WALTER: Thank you.


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