As the 2016 presidential field slowly takes shape, the race — even with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announcing his candidacy — centers on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.). While neither has officially declared, both are working feverishly behind the scenes, building an infrastructure; testing policy platforms; and preparing for a grueling campaign season. By many outward appearances, Bush has moved more aggressively toward an announcement with the formation of the Right to Rise PAC and a bevy of policy speeches. Yet, given the potentially crowded field of Republican candidates, including current and former governors and U.S. senators, Bush has little margin for error.
Clinton, on the other hand, has no such concerns, the ongoing email controversy notwithstanding. Her name ID alone laps the field of would-be primary challengers. Only Vice President Biden, comes close to matching her in name recognition. Moreover, a compilation of polling data shows Clinton with a 48.6 percentage point lead over a field of potential primary challengers. Her inevitability — should she decide to run — is real. Based on early polling numbers, Clinton has the path of least resistance to the Democratic nomination. Yet a head-to-head battle with Bush could spell doom, as his advantage in the all-important Electoral College is unquestioned.
Bush still enjoys enormous popularity in his home state of Florida, a key battleground state. That enduring popularity, along with the infrastructure of recently reelected Republican Gov. Rick Scott, will give Bush a decided edge over Clinton. Other key battleground states that deserve attention include Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Clinton and Bush even in a hypothetical match-up in the Virginia. However, Virginia has gone Democratic the last two presidential election cycles and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight MORE’s (D) razor-thin victory over former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, along with Terry McAuliffe's (D) gubernatorial win, could be the Democratic firewall Clinton needs to win that crucial state. Additionally, Clinton's deep roots in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, combined with Philadelphia being the host city of the Democratic National Convention in 2016, all but assures that Pennsylvania will remain blue.
Meanwhile, Republicans might feel the wind at their backs in the Centennial State after tremendous gains in the 2014 midterms. Republican Cory Gardner was able to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Republicans took control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade. Amid this backdrop, 2014 saw Colorado's turnout among women at its lowest point since 1992. However, Colorado Republicans should not expect a similar turnout among women in a presidential election year with Clinton possibly at the top of the ticket.
Though Pennsylvania, Virginia and possibly Colorado lean toward Clinton in an all-important White House run, no two states are more integral to any presidential victory than Nevada and Ohio, and they stand solidly in Bush's corner. Nevada has been carried by the winner in every presidential election since 1912, with the exception of 1976. Not to be outdone, since 1964, Ohio has been the only state in the nation to back the winning candidate in every presidential cycle. The advantages held by the GOP in these two bellwether states will make even Clinton's inevitability a tall climb. The Silver State leaned Democratic in 2008 and 2012, with Obama besting Mitt Romney 52 to 46 percent even in a brutal economic climate. Fast forward to 2014, and the Republicans have picked up both chambers of the state legislature. Adding to the list of Republican advantages, Gov. Brian Sandoval, one of the nation's most prominent Latino officeholders, won reelection in a landslide with a whopping 70 percent of the vote. Sandoval and Bush (no stranger to the Latino community) could provide the blueprint for reaching the crucial Latino vote and moving Nevada into the red column. Like Nevada, the Buckeye State is currently enjoying a decided red advantage that could tilt the presidency to Bush in 2016. The single biggest advantage is its immensely popular Republican governor, John Kasich. While harboring his own presidential ambitions, should Kasich decide not to run, there would be no better champion for a Bush-led ticket than him. A two-term governor and former congressman, Kasich has deep roots in Ohio. The Republican presidential nominee will also enjoy the same advantages of the Democratic National Convention, as Cleveland is the host city for the Republican National Convention. Clinton's inevitability makes her formidable, but like his brother before him, Bush recognizes the Electoral College, not the popular vote, is the difference between victory and defeat.
Ham is a national political analyst and author of the best-selling book The GOP Civil War: Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party.