The 2016 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet

Andy Kropa / AP For campaign-finance reform enthusiasts, Lawrence Lessig is more. The Harvard law professor and electoral-reform activist announced on Tuesday that he’s weighing a bid for the Democratic nomination for president. If he joins the race, Lessig would campaign with a simple platform: remove the influence of money from politics. It’s a familiar refrain among Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but Lessig’s devotion to the cause stands out. Ironically, the best spokesman for campaign-finance reform in the race right now might be the richest one. When asked about donations to Democratic candidates during the first GOP primary debate, Donald Trump admitted he was buying influence. “When they call, I give,” he told the crowd. “And you know what? When I need something from them—two years later, three years later—I call them. They are there for me. And that’s a broken system.” On that, if nothing else, Tump and Lessig would likely agree. With so many candidates in the mix—some announced, some soon to announce, and some still on the fence—it’s tough to keep track of it all. To help out with that, this cheat sheet on the state of the presidential field will be periodically updated throughout the campaign season. Here’s how things look right now. * * * The Democrats WikimediaLawrence Lessig Who is he? Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School, political activist, and occasional Atlantic contributor. Among the causes he’s backed are campaign-finance reform, reversing the Citizens United decision, and loosening copyright restrictions. He’s also proposed calling a second constitutional convention to modernize the nation’s founding document. Is he running? He announced an exploratory committee on August 11 and pledged to enter the race if he raises $1 million by Labor Day. Who wants him to run? Proponents of electoral reform, presumably. Lessig is pitching himself as a “referendum president” whose sole purpose would be to pass his proposed Citizens Equality Act of 2017. The bill would enact universal voting registration, campaign-finance limits, and anti-gerrymandering provisions. Can he win the nomination? If Donald Trump has proven anything by ascending to frontrunner status, it’s that anything is possible. What else do we know? In a season 6 episode of The West Wing, a fictional Lessig (played by Christopher Lloyd) worked with the White House to write a new constitution for Belarus. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaJoe Biden Who is he? Biden is vice president and the foremost American advocate for aviator sunglasses and passenger rail. Is he running? Biden hasn’t taken any visible steps toward building the organizing or fundraising infrastructure necessary for mounting a presidential run, but Maureen Dowd reported in The New York Times on August 2 that the vice president has been edging toward a campaign since the death of his son Beau in May. Who wants him to run? The Wall Street Journal reports that both Beau Biden and his brother Hunter encouraged their father to run. The group Draft Biden (slogan: “I’m Ridin’ With Biden”) continues to do its best. Can he win the nomination? Even with Clinton’s recent struggles, it’s hard to imagine Biden beating her in a primary. At 72, Biden would also be an unusually elderly candidate. When will he announce? Biden will make a decision by early September, according to the Times. WikimediaJim Webb Who is he? Webb is a Vietnam War hero and secretary of the Navy. The author of several books, he served as a senator from Virginia from 2007 to 2013. Is he running? Yes, as of July 2. Who wants him to run? Dovish Democrats; socially conservative, economically populist Democrats; the Anybody-But-Hillary camp. Can he win the nomination? Very doubtful. While Webb was the perfect candidate for Senate from Virginia in 2006, his statement in support of the Confederate flag shows why he probably has little hope in the national Democratic Party. What else do we know? Read Webb’s longtime friend James Fallows on why he wants Webb in the race. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaHillary Clinton Who is she? As if we have to tell you, but: She’s a trained attorney; former secretary of State in the Obama administration; former senator from New York; and former first lady. Is she running? Yes. Who wants her to run? Most of the Democratic Party. Can she win the nomination? A better question is whether she can lose it. Not yet! What else do we know? The real puzzler, after so many years with Clinton on the national scene, is what we don’t know. Here are 10 central questions to ask about the Hillary Clinton campaign. Does her website have a good 404 page? If you’re tolerant of bad puns and ’90s ’80s outfits, the answer is yes. Steven Senne / APLincoln Chafee Who is he? The son of beloved Rhode Island politician John Chafee, Linc took his late father’s seat in the U.S. Senate, serving as a Republican. He was governor, first as an independent and then as a Democrat. Is he running? Yes—he announced his run at George Mason University on June 3. Who wants him to run? Beyond metric-system boosters? No one knows! Even in Rhode Island, Chafee doesn’t have much support—he opted not to seek re-election as governor in 2014, in part because his approval rating had reached a dismal 26 percent. Can he win the nomination? No. Chafee seems to be positioning himself as an economic populist and says Clinton’s 2002 vote for the Iraq war should disqualify her (he was the only Republican senator to vote against it). In other words: He’s Jim Webb with a less impressive resume, a less compelling bio (he’s the son of longtime Senator John Chafee), and less of a political base. He gives himself even odds, though. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaMartin O’Malley Who is he? He’s a former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. Is he running? Yes. He announced his campaign on May 30. Who wants him to run? Not clear. He has some of the leftism of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but without the same grassroots excitement. Can he win the nomination? Probably not. At the moment, O’Malley seems caught between Sanders, who has grasped the progressive mantle, and Clinton, who dominates the Democratic race overall. As with Sanders, though, it’s hard to see where O’Malley would get an opening unless Clinton’s campaign fell apart. The conventional wisdom since protests over the death of Freddie Gray is that protests in Baltimore undermine the case for his candidacy and make it harder for him to run, but he’s embraced the protests as a motivation for his run. What else do we know? Have you heard that he plays in a Celtic rock band? You have? Oh. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaBernie Sanders Who is he? A self-professed socialist, Sanders represented Vermont in the U.S. House from 1991 to 2007, when he won a seat in the Senate. Is he running? Yes. He announced April 30. Who wants him to run? Far-left Democrats; socialists; Brooklyn-accent aficionados. Can he win the nomination? It remains extremely difficult to see him winning the nomination, on the basis that primary voters tend to gravitate to “electable” general-election candidates alone. But Sanders has improbably become a huge force in the Democratic Party, making questions about inequality and economics central to the campaign and tugging Hillary Clinton to the left. Does his website have a good 404 page? Yes, and it is quintessentially Sanders. WikimediaElizabeth Warren Who is she? Warren has taken an improbable path from Oklahoma, to Harvard Law School, to progressive heartthrob, to Massachusetts senator. Is she running? No. Seriously, no. Who wants her to run? Progressive Democrats; economic populists, disaffected Obamans, disaffected Bushites. Can she win the nomination? No, because she’s not running. * * * The Republicans Gage SkidmoreJim Gilmore Who is he? Right? Gilmore was governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002. Before that, he chaired the Republican National Committee for a year. In 2008, he ran for Senate in Virginia and lost to Mark Warner by 31 points. Thirty-one! Is he running? Yes. He filed his papers on July 29. Who wants him to run? Who knows? Gilmore ran for president briefly during the 2008 cycle before switching to the Senate race. There’s not exactly a groundswell for him this time, either. He says he has experience with national security and the economy that other Republican candidates don’t, and if he’s talking about Trump, it’s hard to disagree. Can he win? Nah. WikimediaJohn Kasich Who is he? The current Ohio governor ran once before, in 2000, after a stint as Republican budget guru in the House. Between then and his election in 2010, he worked at Lehman Brothers. Molly Ball wrote a definitive profile in April. Is he running? Yes: His announcement was July 21 at Ohio State University in Columbus. Who wants him to run? Kasich’s pitch: He’s got better fiscal-conservative bona fides than any other candidate in the race, he’s proven he can win blue-collar voters, and he’s won twice in a crucial swing state. While his polling isn’t stellar, he still leads Graham, Fiorina, and Jindal. Can he win the nomination? As Ball noted, Kasich seems in some ways perfectly suited to this race; in other ways, his insistent anti-charisma makes it very hard to imagine him winning, and his attitude is amusingly blasé: “If they like it, great. If they don’t like it, I’ll play more golf.” He could be hurt by his embrace of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, a move he had to circumvent the Republican-led General Assembly to make. Does his website have a good 404 page? Nope. What else do we know? John Kasich bought a Roots CD and hated it so much he threw it out of his car window. (Littering is illegal, governor!) John Kasich hated the Coen brothers’ classic Fargo so much he tried to get his local Blockbuster to quit renting it. George Will laughed at him. John Kasich is the Bill Brasky of philistinism. John Kasich probably hated that skit, too. Gage SkidmoreScott Walker Who is he? Elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010, Walker earned conservative love and liberal hate for his anti-union policies. In 2013, he defeated a recall effort, and he won reelection the following year. Is he running? Yes. He announced on July 13. Who wants him to run? Walker’s record as governor of Wisconsin excites many Republicans. He’s got a solid résumé as a small-government conservative. His social-conservative credentials are also strong, but without the culture-warrior baggage that sometimes brings. And Walker has won three difficult elections in a blue-ish state. He’s said to be a favorite of the Koch brothers and their network. Can he win the nomination? Very possibly. Despite his strengths, Walker has never run a national campaign and isn’t exactly Mr. Personality. For now, he is solidly in the top tier of candidates. Does his website have a good 404 page? Aye, matey. What else do we know? Good news, bad news: Walker has a geographic advantage in his proximity to Iowa, but a potential biological disadvantage from his allergy to dogs. David ShankboneChris Christie Who is he? What’s it to you, buddy? The combative New Jerseyan is in his second term as governor and previously served as a U.S. attorney. Is he running? Christie kicked off his campaign June 30 at Livingston High School, his alma mater. Who wants him to run? Moderate and establishment Republicans who don’t like Bush or Romney; big businessmen, led by Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Can he win the nomination? No. The tide of opinion had turned against Christie even before the “Bridgegate” indictments. Citing his horrific favorability numbers, FiveThirtyEight bluntly puns that “Christie’s access lanes to the GOP nomination are closed.” Does his website have a good 404 page? We would have gone with the GIF, but sure. Gage SkidmoreBobby Jindal Who is he? A Rhodes Scholar, he’s the outgoing governor of Louisiana. He previously served in the U.S. House. Is he running? Yes. He kicked off his campaign on June 24. Who wants him to run? It’s hard to say. Jindal has assiduously courted conservative Christians, both with a powerful conversion story (he was raised Hindu but converted to Catholicism in high school) and policies (after other governors reversed course, he charged forward with a religious-freedom law). But he still trails other social conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. Can he win the nomination? Probably not. Jindal still lacks traction at the national level, he faces an overcrowded field of social conservatives, and his stewardship of the state of Louisiana has come in for harsh criticism even from staunch fiscal conservatives. It’s hard to see how he gains momentum from here. What else do we know? In 1994, he wrote an article called “Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare,” in which he described a friend’s apparent exorcism. Does his website have a good 404 page? Meh. Good joke, but past its expiration date. Gage SkidmoreDonald Trump Who is he? The real-estate developer and reality-TV star fired TV personality almost certainly isn’t worth as much as he wants you to think he is. Is he running? Like, is he going to win the nomination? Of course not. But his wacky, offensive, ad-lib rise to the top of the Republican polls has been amazing. Who wants him to run? Jon Stewart; Donald Trump. The rest of the Republican Party, however, seems horrified. Can he win the nomination? When does this GIF stop seeming funny and accurate, and start seeming incorrect? Not today! He’s still not gonna win. What else do we know? He’s, like, a really smart person. Gage SkidmoreJeb Bush Who is he? The brother and son of presidents, he served two terms as governor of Florida, from 1999 to 2007. Is he running? Yes, as of June 15. Who wants him to run? Establishment Republicans; George W. Bush; major Wall Street donors. Can he win the nomination? Bush is a top-tier candidate, but just how strong he is remains unclear. Since jumping into the race, he has continued to poll well and raise lots of money. He seems like a lock to rack up all-important endorsements from top Republicans. But predictions that he would quickly come to dominate the field have not come to pass, and while many analysts predicted that his moderate record would cause trouble in Iowa and with grassroots activists, that problem seems to be deeper than expected. His poll numbers are probably helped by his name, which is a double-edged sword. What else do we know? Since Bush’s surprise announcement, he has tended to stay fairly quiet, delivering some big speeches and hitting fundraisers, but not making a great number of trips to Iowa or New Hampshire. Does his website have a good 404 page? Yes—y en español también. Gage SkidmoreRick Perry Who is he? George W. Bush’s successor as governor of Texas, he entered the 2012 race with high expectations, but sputtered out quickly. He left office in 2014 as the Lone Star State’s longest-serving governor. Is he running? Yes. He announced on June 4. Who wants him to run? Small-government conservatives; Texans; immigration hardliners; foreign-policy hawks. Noah Rothman makes a case here. (Perry’s top backer four years ago, non-relative Bob Perry, died in 2013.) Can he win the nomination? Perry and his backers insist 2016 Perry will be the straight shooter who oversaw the so-called Texas miracle, not the meandering, spacey Perry of 2012. We’ll see. So far, his campaign has failed to catch on in polling, even as he wins acclaim as a drastically improved candidate. Does his website have a good 404 page? That depends. Is this an “oops” joke? If so, yes. WikimediaLindsey Graham Who is he? A senator from South Carolina, he’s John McCain’s closest ally in the small caucus of Republicans who are moderate on many issues but very hawkish on foreign policy. Is he running? He sure is. Graham kicked off the campaign June 1. Who wants him to run? John McCain, naturally. Senator Kelly Ayotte, possibly. Joe Lieberman, maybe? Can he win the nomination? Not really. The South Carolina senator seems to be running in large part to make sure there’s a credible, hawkish voice in the primary. It seems like Graham started his campaign almost as a lark but has started to enjoy the ride, plus he’s shown he’s a great performer on the stump. Molly Ball explores his chances at greater length here. What else do we know? Graham promises to have a rotating first lady if he wins. We nominate Lana del Ray. Michael VadonGeorge Pataki Who is he? Pataki ousted incumbent Mario Cuomo in 1994 and served three terms as governor of New York. Is he running? Yes. He announced May 28. Who wants him to run? It’s not clear. Establishment Northeastern Republicans once held significant sway over the party, but those days have long since passed. Can he win the nomination? No. As my colleague Russell Berman previously noted, Pataki is one of the longest of the long-shot GOP candidates. He has touted his leadership on 9/11, when he served as governor, but so did former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He was also a successful conservative governor in a deep-blue Northeastern state, but so was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He seems to be socially liberal enough to alienate primary voters, but not enough to capture Democrats. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. Gage SkidmoreRick Santorum Who is he? Santorum represented Pennsylvania in the Senate from 1995 until his defeat in 2006. He was the runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2012. Is he running? Yes, with a formal announcement on May 27. Who wants him to run? Social conservatives. The former Pennsylvania senator didn’t have an obvious constituency in 2012, yet he still went a long way, and Foster Friess, who bankrolled much of Santorum’s campaign then, is ready for another round. Can he win the nomination? It’s tough to imagine. Santorum himself said his chances would hinge on avoiding saying “crazy stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” For now, his poll numbers remain in the basement—but he surprised in 2012. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. Gage SkidmoreMike Huckabee Who is he? An ordained preacher, former governor of Arkansas, and Fox News host, he ran a strong campaign in 2008, finishing third, but sat out 2012. Is he running? Yes. He kicked off the campaign May 5. Who wants him to run? Social conservatives; evangelical Christians. Can he win the nomination? Huckabee’s struggle will be to prove that he’s still relevant. Since he last ran in 2008, a new breed of social conservatives has come in, and he’ll have to compete with candidates like Ted Cruz. His brand of moral crusading feels a bit out of date in an era of widespread gay marriage—not least when he curiously chose to attack Beyoncé. (His statements in support of Josh Duggar have also earned him criticism and quizzical reaction.) He faces fire from strict anti-tax conservative groups for tax hikes while he was governor. And fundraising has always been his weak suit. But Huckabee’s combination of affable demeanor and strong conservatism resonates with voters. Does his website have a good 404 page? It’s pretty good. Gage SkidmoreBen Carson Who is he? A celebrated former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Carson became a conservative folk hero after a broadside against Obamacare at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. Is he running? Yes, after a May 4 announcement. Who wants him to run? Grassroots conservatives, who have boosted him up near the top of polls, even as Republican insiders cringe. Carson has an incredibly appealing personal story—a voyage from poverty to pathbreaking neurosurgery—and none of the taint of politics. Can he win the nomination? Almost certainly not. Carson’s politics are conservative on some issues, but so eclectic as to be nearly incoherent overall. He’s never run a political campaign, and has a tendency to do things like compare ISIS to the Founding Fathers. Despite initially building a formidable organization, he’s struggled to keep it together, with a rash of top staffers defecting. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. Gage SkidmoreCarly Fiorina Who is she? Fiorina rose through the ranks to become CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005, before being ousted in an acrimonious struggle. She advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and unsuccessfully challenged Senator Barbara Boxer of California in 2010. Is she running? Yes, as of a May 4 announcement. Who wants her to run? It isn’t clear what Fiorina’s constituency is. She’s a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but there are other business-friendly candidates in the race, all of whom have more electoral experience. Can she win the nomination? Almost certainly not. Fiorina’s only previously political experience was a failed Senate campaign against Barbara Boxer in 2010. She has mostly been serving the role of harasser in the race so far, stirring up the news with slams on environmentalists for causing droughts (your guess is as good as mine), Obama for backing net neutrality, and Apple’s Tim Cook for speaking out on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Mainly, though, she has strongly criticized Hillary Clinton, and some Republican strategists like the optics of having a woman to criticize Clinton so as to sidestep charges of sexism. Fiorina seems to be wowing voters in Iowa, but that hasn’t translated into national support—yet. What else do we know? Fiorina’s 2010 Senate race produced two of the most entertaining and wacky political ads ever, “Demon Sheep” and the nearly eight-minute epic commonly known as “The Boxer Blimp.” Does her website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaMarco Rubio Who is he? A second-generation Cuban-American and former speaker of the Florida House, Rubio was catapulted to national fame in the 2010 Senate election, after he unexpected upset Governor Charlie Crist to win the GOP nomination. Is he running? Yes—he announced on April 13. Who wants him to run? Rubio enjoys establishment support, and has sought to position himself as the candidate of an interventionist foreign policy. Could he win the nomination? Charles Krauthammer pegs him as the Republican frontrunner. His best hope seems to be to emerge as a consensus candidate who can appeal to social conservatives and hawks, and he’s even sounded some libertarian notes of late. He’s well-liked by Republicans, and has surged forward since announcing, but he needs to move up from second choice to first choice for more of them. Rubio seems to scare Democrats more than any other candidate, too. Does his website have a good 404 page? It’s decent. WikimediaRand Paul Who is he? An ophthalmologist and son of libertarian icon Ron Paul, he rode the 2010 Republican wave to the Senate, representing Kentucky. Is he running? Yes, as of April 7. Who wants him to run? Ron Paul fans; Tea Partiers; libertarians; civil libertarians; non-interventionist Republicans. Can he win the nomination? At one time, Paul seemed like he might manage to break into the top tier despite being a radically unorthodox Republican. He’s relatively permissive on drugs, passionate about civil liberties, and adamantly in favor of restraint on foreign policy. So far, however, his unusual candidacy isn’t taking off. Paul remains stuck in the rear-middle of the pack, he hasn’t picked up the big donors he hoped for, and his father’s backers remain wary of his overtures to the GOP establishment What else do we know? One of Paul’s greatest strengths is the base bequeathed to him by his father, three-time presidential candidate and former Representative Ron Paul. But as The Washington Post has reported, his father is also Senator Paul’s biggest headache. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. WikimediaTed Cruz Who is he? Cruz served as deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and was appointed Texas solicitor general in 2003. In 2012, he ran an insurgent campaign to beat a heavily favored establishment Republican for Senate. Is he running? Yes. He launched his campaign March 23 at Liberty University in Virginia. Who wants him to run? Hardcore conservatives; Tea Partiers who worry that Rand Paul is too dovish on foreign policy; social conservatives. Can he win the nomination? Though his announcement gave Cruz both a monetary and visibility boost, he still carries serious weaknesses. Much of Cruz’s appeal to his supporters—his outspoken stances and his willingness to thumb his nose at his own party—also imperil him in a primary or general election, and he’s sometimes been is own worst enemy when it comes to strategy. But Cruz is familiar with running and winning as an underdog. Does his website have a good 404 page? No. Gage SkidmoreSarah Palin Who is she? If you have to ask now, you must not have been around in 2008. That’s when John McCain selected the then-unknown Alaska governor as his running mate. After the ticket lost, she resigned her term early and became a television personality. Is she running? A bizarre speech in January made a compelling case both ways. Who wants her to run? Palin still has diehard grassroots fans, but there are fewer than ever. Can she win the nomination? No. When will she announce? It doesn’t matter. Gage SkidmoreMitt Romney Who is he? The Republican nominee in 2012 was also governor of Massachusetts and a successful businessman. Is he running? Nah. He announced in late January that he would step aside. Who wanted him to run? Former staffers; prominent Mormons; Hillary Clinton’s team. Romney polled well, but it’s hard to tell what his base would have been. Republican voters weren’t exactly ecstatic about him in 2012, and that was before he ran a listless, unsuccessful campaign. Party leaders and past donors were skeptical at best of a third try. Could he have won the nomination? He proved the answer was yes, but it didn’t seem likely to happen again. Gage SkidmoreJohn Bolton Who is he? A strident critic of the UN and leading hawk, he was George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN for 17 months. Is he running? Nope. After announcing his announcement, in the style of the big-time candidates, he posted on Facebook that he wasn’t running. Who wanted him to run? Even among super-hawks, he didn’t seem to be a popular pick, likely because he had no political experience. Could he have won the nomination? They say anything is possible in politics, but this would test the rule. A likelier outcome could be a plum foreign-policy role in a hawkish GOP presidency. This article was originally published at


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