2016 could be the most wide-open GOP primary ever


Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, speaks to the press in this Sept. 27 photo. (Photo by/J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The political world is preparing for what some think could be a Democratic coronation of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

What people generally aren't talking about is the fact that the Republican primary is shaping up to be almost the exact opposite: the most wide-open primary in recent history.

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll on Tuesday showed Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush tied at 13 percent nationally, with Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) just a point back. A whopping six other candidates are at 6 percent or higher.

In total, there are nine candidates within seven points of one another -- something that's basically unheard-of at this early stage in presidential polling. And those nine don't even include 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum or another candidate many see as formidable, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A look at the Huffington Post's poll tracker bears out the same point. Just check out this chaos:

Going back just more than a year, seven different Republicans have polled as the leader for the 2016 GOP nomination. First it was pretty firmly Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.); then it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). As those two have faded thanks to different issues -- Rubio pushing comprehensive immigration reform and Christie's bridge scandal -- a much more jumbled picture has emerged.

Since the beginning of the year, in fact, no GOP candidate has polled above 20 percent in any poll.

That's a stark contrast to the Democratic primary, where basically every poll shows a strong majority of people supporting Clinton, and nobody else is in sight. Indeed, it's hard to even discern who might have the political fortitude to give Clinton a serious run for her money, outside of someone like Elizabeth Warren (who has been adamant that she is "not running").

It's also quite a different picture than basically any recent Republican primary.

In 2012, virtually every early poll had Mitt Romney as the clear front-runner, often by double digits. In 2008, John McCain led in every national poll until November 2007. In 2000, George W. Bush was the clear and early front-runner two and half years out. The same was true in 1996 for Bob Dole and in 1988 for George H.W. Bush, in 1980 for Ronald Reagan and in 1976 for Gerald Ford.

In fact, there is no recent precedent for such a wide-open GOP field with a lack of any clear early front-runner.

The question from there is whether that works to the GOP's advantage or not. Every party seems to want to avoid rough-and-tumble contests that leave their nominee bruised heading into the general election, but Republicans also lamented in 2008 that the drawn-out Democratic primary helped Democrats dominate news coverage of the race well after McCain secured the nomination.

Things can and will change, and perhaps someone will begin to assert himself (or herself) as the calendar turns to 2015 and inches toward the first primaries of 2016.

For now, though, the race is looking like a complete free-for-all the likes of which we haven't really seen.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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