Now that most of the candidates have finally announced that they are, in fact, “in it to win it” – let’s update the rankings on who is the most likely candidate to actually win it.

We are less than ten months away from knowing who will be the Republican nominee for President of the States United in 2016. Secretary Hillary Clinton’s stone cold lock on the Democratic nomination is starting to thaw a little and that race might get VERY interesting in the coming months. Stay tuned…

Our previous rankings had former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee at #1 due to his previous silver medal in 2008; however, his campaign rollout since his departure from his weekly show on Fox News has been a disaster to say the least. When you lose momentum in politics on the scale that Huckabee has in the last five months, he’s done. It’s very hard to see how he gets back to winning in Iowa with this field and without a signature issue. He might not even finish in the top five in Iowa at this stage and his Iowa numbers back that up. Huckabee falls from #1 to #6.

But onto the countdown…(Casey Kasem voice)

Outside the top 10 due to lack of formal announcements are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (old #8), Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. Former U.S Senator Rick Santorum is also outside the top ten looking in because…well…he just is. There just doesn’t seem to be any momentum there.

Kasich is the most likely of this group to move into the top ten and has a great shot at VPOTUS due to his popularity in swing state Ohio; however, Governor Gilmore could make also make a homeland security/ foreign policy based move as well, but the steps up the nomination ladder get very crowded from there. Still…never know. Very long shots here.

(Casey Kasem voice) Coming in at #10  – Carly Fiorina – not a bad campaign rollout given the television interviews and social media push out as being able to draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton. Let’s be honest here – that is largely, okay solely, due to the fact that Carly is a woman. If she raises money and does well in the next several months in developing some supporters and volunteers, Fiorina could move into contention for a VPOTUS selection. Can’t really see a path forward at this point save a great moment in an early debate in which she becomes a legitimate contender. Long shot at best.

#9 (ditched Casey Kasem voice) Texas Governor Rick Perry – when your fifth in presidential polls in your own state and you were governor for the last ten years….but hey, the glasses are rocking, Rick! Perry is a candidate in search of an issue.

#8 Dr. Ben Carson – Carson drops two slots due to his inability to maintain momentum in the face of all the announcements by the rest of the field. He should have announced much earlier and should have gotten organized much much much earlier. After some questionable public comments, Carson’s campaign needs to make some moves soon.

#7 Governor Chris Christie – Christie also drops two slots due to his inability to shake the Bridgegate scandal while other candidates have passed him with their announcements. Christie could regain some momentum but he has to get moving in fundraising and, like Fiorina, have a great moment in the debates. He needs a breakout that creates a sustainable campaign. Hard to see that happening at this stage. He’s blunt, direct, funny…ok. We get that. But what else does he bring to the dance?

#6 Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee – Huckabee drops FIVE slots. Without a big fundraising announcement soon – he’s probably done. Timing is huge in politics and his time might have passed. The politics of 2007-2008 primaries are VERY different from 2015-2016. If Huckabee can raise enough money and hang in there until the March 1st primaries, he has a chance; however, there are just too many other candidates taking up money and voters in order to see a path to victory. And when you hire family to run your campaign…yeah…not a great sign.

#5 Texas Senator Ted Cruz – BIG move from previous ranking of #9. Very good announcement at Liberty University in Virginia and played well to his audience. If he can pull off good fundraising numbers and show a path to winning the general election, folks might look past his lack of connectivity  – but that rarely happens. While other GOP contenders polled ahead of Hillary in the recent WMUR New Hampshire poll, Cruz did not. That lack of general election viability hurts Cruz until you begin the conversation of recent conservative victories in Israel and Great Britain. Those wins drive social media and email chatter that drives hope for to keep Cruz supporters and volunteers working. True believers aside, Cruz has to start being a viable “Second Best” candidate with some authentic moments that make him more likable. For many in the GOP primaries  – he’s just not. He’s started to ditch the tie and show his cowboy boots. The problem is that he has to do so in order to appear more regular. Cruz will do well in the debates but will probably continue to not connect.

#4 Kentucky Senator Rand Paul  – steady and consistent. Paul is on message and really working the digital side of the nomination. He’s polling well among younger voters while showing an ability and desire to meet with policy opponents thus developing a relationship while mitigating negative intensity. Smart. Look, you’re not going to have people agree with you all the time, right? So, why not listen and be heard at the same time? Over time people begin to trust you – “we can work with him…” “we don’t agree, but at least he listens.” “I think he heard our concerns…” That really helps win critical voter blocks as the choices are reduced throughout the primary process.

#3 Florida Senator Marco Rubio – Rubio moves up from #7 to #3 – HUGE. Marco is polling much higher than expected. The key is WHERE is he polling so well. In a recent poll from the Consumer Energy Alliance, Rubio is at 25% with Iowa primary voters over 60. That is a big deal if accurate since older voters are the most likely voters. Rubio drops off to 9% in the same poll with New Hampshire seniors, but like the old saying goes – win the game you are playing. And the first game is Iowa. If Rubio can get the Bronze in Iowa and New Hampshire, then pull an upset in South Carolina – home state of his campaign manager, Terry Sullivan – he could be, if the money is still there, off to Florida and the March 1st primaries down to just three with…

#2 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker moves up one from #3 in my last ranking largely due to the fact that he has maintained strength in polling among all the other candidates’ announcement. He has a built in advantage being the governor of Iowa border state Wisconsin; however, Walker’s real strength is how well he connects one on one with voters. Average people. He’s likable but no back slapper. Walker listens with authentic presence – it’s a real gift he has and that will work well with New Hampshire voters. In fact, Walker is polling well there already holding a +3 lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Walker will have to get his numbers up in Wisconsin and show that he can beat Secretary Clinton in his home state. If that reality is not mitigated, Walker will be pummeled on this by his fellow Republicans and that narrative might do him in.

#1 – Let the hate e-mail begin….former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Some reality checks – Bush is going to raise a boat load of money – estimates are close to $100 million. That’s Real Deal money folks. Bush can finish in top 3 in Iowa and New Hampshire, first or second in South Carolina and still have the money to push out in the March 1st primaries rolling up delegates, volunteers, and donors along the way.  His problem is, for now, that a lot of primary voters just are not enthusiastic about a potential Bush III nomination or worse a Bush III v Clinton II showdown for 1990s supremacy….in 2016. Politics is about the future and Bush simply cannot win on his record as governor any more than Hillary can win on her record or her husband’s.

Reminders – It’s never early in politics. All polls matter. This is a 24/7/365 business that is controlled by those who show up.

But money drives the name ID.


Chris Saxman

About Chris Saxman

Father of four, small business leader, retired politician, and Executive Committee member and former Chairman of an international trade association, Chris Saxman delivers strategy and insight as a political coach and keynote speaker. Contact Chris.

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