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2016 Presidential Candidates: 7 Republicans With the Most Momentum

Between polling, marketing, fundraising, schmoozing, and political positioning, there is a herculean amount of news to follow regarding the dozen or so known potential presidential candidates for 2016.  Even two years out from the sure-to-be-compelling pageantry of the 2016 presidential elections, every move by promising presidential candidates has been scrutinized and framed (fairly or not) as a means to the White House. 

Momentum is a captured snapshot of time, and changes as rapidly as an indecisive patron at a large-menu restaurant. Today, in contrast to the Democrats and their widening crevice between Hillary Clinton and "that other guy/Hillary post-Hillary," the Republican field is packed tighter than a double-wrapped monster Chipotle burrito (yeah, you know what I’m talking about). Today's GOP flavors include Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky), Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Florida), Governors Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), and formerly Jeb Bush, along with Congressman Paul Ryan (Wisconsin). While even incumbent senators (Read: Claire McCaskill [D-Miss.]) are supporting a Hillary candidacy that enjoys the luxuries of a the private life, these GOP stars are facing tough discussions on immigration, federal budgets, national security, and age-old question of civil liberties.

Doing well now, in 2013, doesn’t guarantee anything. These leaders still must govern and make big decisions that could help or hurt their chances (just ask Louisianians what they think about Bobby Jindal). These seven potential presidential candidates, in no particular order, draw my attention the most at this current point in time.

1. Paul Ryan

By virtue of not doing anything particularly abrasive or campaign-ish other than executing his job as GOP budget master, Paul Ryan has managed to remain fairly popular among his base. In a recent Gallup Poll, 69% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approved of Ryan (ahead of Rubio, Rand, Cruz, and Christie — in that order). Take polls for what they are worth (better taken in larger time lengths) but this is certainly a good sign for any potential Ryan 2016 maneuverings. Ryan is the leader in the Republican budget battles and will have more than enough chances to make yet another mark on the Republican Party going further.

2. Chris Christie

Chris Christie's 2016 chances are credited not to the GOP base (they have mutually antagonized each other in 2013) but fueled by rising support among Democrats and Independents. Governor Christie has become quite adept at making headlines. From his omission at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to his friendship with President Obama, and lately his management of the New Jersey special elections to replace the late Senator Lautenberg, Christie will continue to receive attention as a popular Republican managing the deep-blue Garden State He's even making the savvy move of stating his sports allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys.

(Note: "Popular Republican" links to the New York Times's FiveThirtyEight post on all Governors’ popularity. I recommend this read).

3. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz is a freshman senator from Texas elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. Along with Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee (R-Utah), he represents a new wave of Republican politics. Because of his pivotal state representation and Cuban heritage, Cruz, along with Rubio, will be counted on to reverse the Democratic stronghold on the increasingly influential Latino community. Cruz has been vocal about immigration reform and has now even surpassed his governor and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Perry in 2016 viability. If Rubio is not hugely successful in his push for comprehensive immigration reform, Cruz may just ascend him in the category of handsome, Cuban, GOP poster boy.

(Note: For a detailed and well-written feature on Senator Ted Cruz and his story, check out the independent news organization, Mother Jones.)

4. Marco Rubio

He is probably the most familiar household name on this list now (well, Ryan was the VP on the Romney ticket, but that was a whole nine months ago now). He has received steady support in the polls, placing him right in the thick of the pack. He is a leader on the Gang of Eight, which is working furiously to push immigration reform through the Senate, and has been dubbed by TIME magazine as "The Republican Savior." His momentum is high now, as the signature bill of the 113th Congress is working its way through the congressional pipeline. If he cannot adequately influence his own party to embrace his name-sponsored legislation in the House, then watch for his presidential stock to plummet. I will say that I do appreciate his boldness to attach his career to immigration reform so early on in his Washington tenure. The ball is in his court. He holds the reins.

5. Rand Paul

#StandwithRand. In a nutshell, this freshman Senator has positioned himself to be a solid contender for the Republican nomination. He's attracted support from the ever-libertarian-sympathizing youth demographic and has seemingly hit the right button with his "security and privacy" civil liberties balancing act in response to the Obama Administration's policies on drone strikes and the recent NSA security leaks. The Washington Post has a great article out today on Rand Paul titled "Is Rand Paul Going Mainstream or Vice Versa?" If Rand Paul is able to also balance his father's support while moving closer to the center for a Republican primary, look for him to offer the libertarian contrast to the other Republican choices.

6. Jeb Bush

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) on NBC's Meet the Press three days ago mentioned Jeb Bush as one of the leading 2016 hopefuls. Although former Governor Bush is outwardly ambivalent and undecided about his 2016 ambitions, there are many in the Republican Party who would be enthused by another Bush on the ticket, especially one with the chops of little brother Jeb and his popularity in the electorally-essential Florida. He is also the only politician on this list who is not currently in elected office. Despite his last name and its new connotation of economic collapse and old whiteness, Jeb is vocally pro-immigration reform, speaks Spanish, and is married to a Latina woman. If conservatives hold true to their name, Jeb may offer a slightly modified version of the comforts of previous two Republican administrations in office.

7. Scott Walker

Current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has now garnered the favorable position of favorite dark-horse candidate. I've thrown him on this list because he is a peculiar politician who is (among people who know who the heck he is) probably more favorably viewed outside of the state he governs. He was almost recalled two years ago, but survived and has boasted strong conservative credentials, beating back the unions and collective bargaining during his tenure. He has roots in Iowa, a key state for any presidential hopeful. He is decently popular (51%, the same as President Obama) in a blue-leaning state with a Tea-Party Tint and an anti-Obama zest. His abortion stances have pleased the religious right as well. He has positioned himself to be liked by many a faction of the Republican Party.

8. What Should You Take Away? Everyone is a Candidate, So Don't Take Much Away

The fanfare and speculation is rampant, not unlike any narrative developed throughout a seven-game championship series in any sport. My advice to you, as an interested voter with a busy life, is to check in every month or two to see the latest betting odds. If you're not a political junkie (which I suppose is unlikely if you're reading this article) who treats these things like the standings of a 162-game baseball season, check back in the summer of 2014 at the earliest. But if you enjoy the ups and downs and not-so-intricate intricacies of a show like Real World: Portland, Survivor, Pretty Little Liars, or Real Housewives of Atlanta, then stick around and read all the commotion! Dinner parties and water cooler discussions will be a little livelier that way.

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