Rep. Marsha Blackburn joins the wish list of GOP women contenders for 2016


U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) speaks at the Freedom Summit at The Executive Court Banquet Facility April 12, 2014, in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Freedom Summit held its inaugural event where national conservative leaders bring together grassroots activists on the eve of tax day. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), fresh off a barn-burner of a speech in New Hampshire this weekend, is also the latest Republican who’s name is being floated as a contender for the top of the GOP ticket in 2016 – whether she likes it or not.

Blackburn, who made conservatives swoon when she debated climate science against Bill Nye in February on NBC, was one of several Republicans who spoke April 12 at the Freedom Summit, a gathering of conservative activists in Manchester, N.H., and like many politicians who venture into the Granite State, the appearance, an aide told Real Clear Politics, was meant to “test the waters” for 2016.

But, just two days later, Blackburn insisted there was no testing of any waters.

“I’m not running for president,” she told Fox News on Monday night. “I was pleased to be invited to New Hampshire and I’m always going to be there on the front line to fight for freedom, so I was invited, I went, I gave a speech and I’m glad it was warmly received.”

The GOP has launched several high profile efforts to appeal to women voters — one of the critical demographics they need to cultivate in order to win the White House. Having a female on the ticket may not assure that effort will be successful, (see Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro) but it couldn’t hurt, particularly if former secretary of state Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

Despite her current lack of interest, Blackburn, a staunch conservative who is in her sixth term in Congress, joins the ranks of several Republican women mentioned as possible contenders in 2016. Also, that fact that someone says they’re “not running for president” has never actually stopped anyone from running for president (see Barack Obama). And as long as politicians trek to Iowa, and South Carolina and New Hampshire to make speeches, the media will be more than happy to speculate.

So, here’s more speculation about other Republican women who are thought to be in the mix for 2016:

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.):
Ayotte also spoke at the event in New Hampshire last weekend and has been frequently mentioned as a contender for the Republican ticket since former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney considered her for his running mate in 2012. While her name has been largely associated with the veep slot – conservative pundits are so impressed with her defense and foreign policy chops — they’ve hinted that the former attorney general of New Hampshire might start looking at the top of the ticket.

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice: If her powerhouse convention speech caught the eye of Republicans in 2012, then her recent spate of public appearances, speeches and fundraisers has sparked even more speculation and adulation. She was out front in criticizing President Obama’s approach to Russia and Ukraine, but, she also has gone after her party for its approach to immigration reform. The notoriously private Rice, who is now at Stanford University, has insisted that she cannot imagine herself running for office.  But that hasn’t stopped others from encouraging her to take it under consideration. In March, Rice told Parade that it would be “terrific” to have a female president and that she looks “forward to that day.” But when fellow interviewee Sheryl Sandberg told Rice she had her vote, Rice replied, “Well, thanks, but you’re not going to get that chance.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.):
Although she fell way short in her 2012 bid for the GOP presidential nomination, Bachmann recently told a Minnesota TV station that she has not ruled out trying again in 2016. “I am not going anywhere. I am going to continue to remain involved on the national stage because the issues are so consequential and I will be involved in shaping the debate,” she told WCCO Sunday Morning.  “I will be involved in a number of different areas, whether it’s individual campaigns or just speaking nationally. I intend to do a lot of speaking and I intend to be involved in media, as well.” The Minnesota Republican announced last year that she would retire at the end of 113th Congress, leaving her plenty of time to contemplate her next move.

Governor Susana Martinez (R-N.M.): She hasn’t done the tour of conservative confabs or made recent trips to Lincoln Day dinners in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, but the governor’s name has been circulating as a potential contender since she was elected four years ago. Christie chose her to appear on the stump in his New Jersey romp, sparking speculation of a Christie/Martinez ticket.  (Perhaps it should be the other way around now?) Romney, in a February CNN interview, mentioned Martinez as one of the politicians he would like to see run in 2016.  Martinez is the first Latina to be elected governor in the United States, in a state that has trended blue in recent years in part because of the growing Hispanic population. She has been openly critical of the way Republicans — including Romney — have spoken about immigration reform and has encouraged her party to improve their outreach efforts among Hispanics. Her seat is considered “likely Republican” by Cook Political Report and other election prognosticators, and should she win a second term, which seems likely, the buzz around her future within the party will only get louder.

Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate has used her political star power to get book deals, television contracts and top billing at conservative gatherings. Even so, Palin has so far resisted the urge to run, and if you talk to rank and file conservatives they don’t believe she’ll run, but they like her role as a burr in the establishment’s saddle. Meantime, she has used to her influence and strong brand with the conservative base to endorse candidates and raise money for her political action committee, SarahPAC.

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