Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSantorum: Russia didn’t hack DNC FBI releases Trump-related files before inauguration Appeals court upholds ex-coal boss’s conviction MORE allies are focusing on four potential Republican challengers for the White House: Jeb Bush, Rand PaulRand PaulTrump team prepares dramatic cuts Paul, Lee call on Trump to work with Congress on foreign policy GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday MORE, Chris Christie and Scott Walker.
Clinton World believes Paul has run the best “pre-campaign” of the group. And the fact that the Republican senator from Kentucky has worked to attract Republicans and Democrats to his cause has made him someone to watch.
Yet, time and again, Bush is the top name to roll off everyone’s tongue.
The scion of the Bush family could raise millions of dollars in a flash and would have the support of Karl Rove’s super-PAC Crossroads GPS, which could raise hundreds of millions of dollars for him. Assuming he gets out of a tough GOP primary, he could also make inroads with Hispanic voters, who have defected in droves from Republican candidates in the last two elections.
“You can’t discount a Bush. Not at all,” said one Democratic consultant who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “For a Republican, he makes one of the most salient points for Hispanics and their perspective and he could easily carry Florida, a swing state.
“We would be silly and foolish to dismiss those strengths and it’s one that we would have to confront with our own message and our own approach,” the consultant said.
Clinton is still weeks — if not months — from launching a potential presidential campaign, and has yet to make up her mind about a second White House bid, Hillaryland sources say.
That’s left time for her backers to eye their prospective opponents in 2016.
Mitch Stewart, a senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary PAC who served in key roles in both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, acknowledged that two contenders in particular jump out to him: Walker and Paul.
“Rand Paul in a primary could be someone that excites a group of people who would not normally participate,” Stewart said.
At a Ready for Hillary fundraising event in New York two weeks ago that drew hundreds of staunch Clintonites and donors, Paul was discussed as someone Democrats needed to watch.
Paul has “demonstrated a charisma and a presence” in the lead-up to a potential run, said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House and attended the meeting in New York.
“To the extent that there’s been a pre-campaign winner, it’s him,” he added.
Christie is also worth watching, Clinton allies repeated over and over again.
While most agree that Christie would be a volatile candidate who could “implode and shoot himself in the foot, he’s still interesting to some of us,” the Democratic consultant said.
About Christie, Lehane said, “The question is, is he or isn’t he the [former New York Mayor Rudy] Guiliani [R] in the race?” he said, “It’s just hard to imagine where he finds the space, room and oxygen in a place like Iowa. I just don’t see how a map works for him.”
Giuliani famously fizzled early in the 2008 presidential primaries.
Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who just won reelection in a blue state, doesn’t have the same national name recognition as the other three Republicans on the Clinton watch list. But a dozen Clintonites and top Democratic operatives interviewed for this story described him as a dark-horse candidate worthy of attention and deserving top-tier watch status.
“He has proven successful in a Democratic state,” Stewart said of Walker.
Republican strategists who have been involved in recent presidential races say they’re putting great stock in Walker. “He has blue-collar appeal in a key state and appeals to that upper Midwest sensibility,” one GOP strategist said.
But Bush appears to stand out as the candidate Clinton World respects and fears the most. At the Ready for Hillary event, Harold Ickes, who served as senior adviser to Clinton during her 2008 bid, mentioned Bush by name, saying he has “very strong credentials with Hispanics” and quipping that he “actually thinks in Spanish” and would make strong inroads with that voting bloc.
At the same time, Team Hillary thinks its candidate would prevail over Bush, who during a Washington visit this week pledged that he wouldn’t run away from his positions on immigration and the Common Core education standards to win a GOP primary.
“He’s got a real journey to make to get through primary season and it won’t be easy,” the Democratic consultant said.
Some of the other candidates might have advantages over Bush in a head-to-head matchup with Clinton.
The GOP strategist said Christie “would be the best match-up in a debate,” because he would be fearless in taking on the former secretary of State’s record, while Paul could be successful at “hitting Clinton on big spending and her ties to corporations.”
A CNN poll released this week found Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012, remains the front-runner among his party’s voters. He received the support of 20 percent of voters asked which Republican was their preferred nominee.
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, came in second in the survey. Bush and Christie came in third and fourth, with the former Florida governor receiving 9 percent and the current New Jersey governor receiving 8 percent.
Stewart, who served as the battleground states director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, said the fact that Romney ranked first among the contenders shows that many of the candidates have yet to define themselves to voters.
That scenario is both “advantageous and problematic” for the prospective GOP candidates.