In a saner world, April 2013 would be way too early to talk about an election that isn’t to take place until November 2016. But this is America, and we’ve never let common sense or lack of actual facts stop us from juicy political speculation.
Normally in a two-term presidency, the line of succession would be quite clear: It would be the vice president, especially if, as with Joe Biden, the No. 2 had been hard-working and willing to undertake difficult and sensitive political missions. His boisterous personality has made up for the more aloof, restrained President Obama.
It’s felt that the departing president owes the vice president his active support, although it seems to be more honored in the breach: Clinton-Gore, Johnson-Humphrey, Eisenhower-Nixon.
However, if you put any stock in the polls and if you’re talking about an event that’s still more than three years off, the heir apparent is not Biden. It is Hillary Clinton.
Both Biden and Clinton are typically noncommittal about 2016: too soon to even think about it, no plans to run; we’ll talk about it when the time comes. These are the usual political disclaimers that no one believes.
Age seems less and less a factor in American politics. Clinton is 65; Biden is 70. By contrast, they make the Republican field — Marco Rubio, 41; Paul Ryan, 43; Rand Paul, 50 — look almost callow.
Clinton has the advantage of retaining the loyalty of her 2008 campaign team and its formidable fund-raising apparatus. And she has her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who when he is good is very, very good and but with the occasional lamentable tendency to occasionally run off the rails.
An early test will come in Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial election when the Clintons’ longtime friend, fundraiser and adviser, in a campaign loaded with former Clintonites, faces off against the state’s extremely conservative attorney general.
The Hillary camp cautions that this is not a training camp for 2016 and that the press should not read anything into the results or draw conclusions about the Democratic presidential races. But of course they will. And unlike now they’ll have something to go on.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.