Speculation starts swiftly on 2016 presidential race

President Obama’s reelection was less than a day old before the speculation began about who might run to replace him in 2016.

Atop the list for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and a gaggle of ambitious younger party stars, from Maryland Gov. Martin O’ Malley to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

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Among Republicans, talk has already turned to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

As was the case in advance of the 2008 election, the field in both parties seems wide open.

And, even if it might be expecting too much to think that the 2016 race could rival that epic struggle for drama, there are more than enough intriguing prospects to whet the appetite of those political junkies already dreaming of the next Iowa and New Hampshire showdowns.

Discussions on the Democratic side are dominated by one question: Will Hillary make another run for president?

Even the most plugged-in Washington insiders are unable to answer with any certainty.

On one hand, no one doubts the scale of the secretary of State’s ambition. On the other, the bruises from her 2008 primary loss to the current president were deep and might yet dissuade her from making another bid.

If Clinton did run, she would be an overwhelming favorite. Her husband’s unflagging efforts to help the president’s reelection bid this year have also helped.

Clinton’s strengths are so obvious that, were she to send out the smoke signals indicating that she was going to run, she might discourage any serious rival from competing against her.

“I would imagine that if she decided to run, and decided to run early, she would just clear the field,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communication.

“I just can’t see anyone wanting to be the skunk at that garden party.”

But Clinton has reason enough to step back from competing in the 2016 contest. Not only has she has been at the center of national life for 20 years, she will be 69 by the date of the next presidential election.

Without Clinton in the race, there would be no obvious front-runner.

Much speculation of late has swirled around Vice President Biden, with some of the gossip spurred by his own cryptic remarks on the matter.

Biden’s advisers have dropped strong suggestions that the vice president would be interested in becoming the ultimate boss, after eight years as deputy.

Biden himself stoked the speculation as recently as Tuesday, when he told reporters at his polling place that he did not think that he was voting for himself for the last time.

At a separate stop Tuesday in Cleveland, when asked whether he would run for office again, he replied, “Oh, I’m going to go back home and run for county council or something.”

“Vice President Biden has been leaving all sorts of pregnant hints that he intends to run in 2016, as well he should,” said Jim Manley, the former communications director with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “He has done an outstanding job.”

Manley said of Biden that, “like my old boss, he sometimes says things that a politician with a stronger filter might not say — but that doesn’t faze me at all.”

Biden, however, has made two unsuccessful runs for his party’s presidential nomination, the first of which came almost a quarter-century ago, in 1988. He is also four years older than Clinton.

There are other, younger names rippling through Democratic circles. They include Cuomo, O’Malley (who reportedly left little doubt during private conversations at this year’s party convention that he intended to seek the nomination) and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.).

The Democrats have the advantage — at least for now — that their confidence is sky-high after Obama’s successive presidential victories. The GOP, meanwhile, is almost certain to face a period of infighting.

On one side are those who argue that the party needs to expand its appeal, particularly to Hispanics and other minorities.

On the other are the grassroots forces who believe the party erred by nominating Mitt Romney — who was derided by his primary rival Newt Gingrich as “a Massachusetts moderate” — rather than someone more capable of firing up the base.

Rubio might be well-placed to unite the factions.

Rubio’s Cuban heritage and his base in the biggest of all the battleground states are electoral assets. And he reached the Senate by defeating a centrist, former Gov. Charlie Crist, with Tea Party support.

“I think Marco has a lot of admiration from many people,” said Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa-based radio host. “We have to compete for the Latino vote — we just can’t even lie to ourselves about this anymore.”

Deace also left no doubt about the depth of grassroots conservative annoyance with Romney’s candidacy, and with other figures in the party who are regarded as too accommodating.

He blasted Christie for “offering photo opportunities” to the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Christie has his fans, however — not least because of his outsize personality and because his image as a popular Republican at the political apex of a Democratic-leaning state would seem to suggest a broad appeal.

The jury is still out on another oft-named 2016 contender — Romney’s running mate, Ryan.

The Wisconsin congressman, who won reelection to the House of Representatives, will face judgments about whether his stature has been diminished or enhanced as a consequence of this year’s campaign.

On the negative side, Ryan’s strong commitment to entitlement reform might have hurt the ticket in Florida, where seniors are an important voting segment.

On the positive side, he was generally felt to have energized crowds and to have acquitted himself competently — if not spectacularly — in his sole debate with Biden.

“I think he came through fine,” Berkovitz said. “He came across as a serious, smart politician who also has a good family aura about him.”

The speculation about 2016 is already ramping up. But many insiders also offer an obvious caveat: Four years is an eternity in politics.

Just ask Hillary Clinton herself. As soon as John Kerry lost the presidential race in 2004, she was anointed the front-runner for 2008.

But new stars can burst through unexpectedly and upend every assumption.

One such star has just been reelected to a second term as president.