When Hillary Clinton dropped out of the 2008 presidential race, she famously said that she had put “18 million cracks” in the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” and that her candidacy ensured that “the path will be a little easier next time” for a woman to run.
In the wake of her run, however, it seemed that there might not be a next woman anywhere close to following the path Clinton blazed. The bench of female candidates was weak in both parties; the only woman to run for president in 2012 was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
Today, however, if Clinton takes a pass on 2016, there is a strong group of female Democratic candidates who could emerge as serious contenders for the nomination.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who took Clinton’s place in the Senate, has emerged as a leading voice for gay men and lesbians and for women in the military during her relatively brief stint in the chamber. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) is already a national liberal hero for her crusade against big banks. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) may well be the most talented — and effective — politician most people have never heard of.
In our ratings of the 10 Democratic candidates with the best chance of being the party’s 2016 nominee below, four of the spots — including the first and fourth slots — are held by women.
Here’s our take on the 2016 field.
10. Brian Schweitzer: The former Montana governor said no to running for the Senate in 2014, in part because he wants to keep his eye on 2016, according to people familiar with his decision making. Okay. But the way he went about considering the Senate race raised questions about his readiness for a national stage.
9. Elizabeth Warren: Out of the women on this list not named Hillary, Warren has the most potential as a presidential candidate. She is beloved by the left and showed in her 2012 Senate race that she can raise a ton of money. (She brought in more than $42 million for that race.) So, why is Warren ranked this low? Because she has expressed no public interest in running.
8. Amy Klobuchar: We’ve written many times that no politician ever goes to Iowa accidentally. So, the Minnesota senator’s trip to the Hawkeye State next month means only one thing: She wants to be part of the great-mentioned when it comes to 2016. Klobuchar’s résuméis very impressive: a two-term U.S. senator and, before that, a county attorney.
7. Howard Dean: It’s been a decade since the former Vermont governor lit the Democratic world on fire with his remarkable if ultimately flawed presidential candidacy. While Dean hasn’t been an active candidate since then, he retains something of a following among liberals, and if there is a segment of the party looking for an alternative to Clinton, he could be it.
6. Martin O’Malley: On paper, the Maryland governor looks great. He’s built a governing record in the Old Line State — guns, the death penalty, gay marriage, etc. — that liberals will love. He’s handsome. And, he badly wants to be president. Like, really badly. But, as the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis noted in a recent piece on O’Malley: “For all his gym-rat, pub-rock credentials, O’Malley is not a very charismatic politician.” There is a “Democratic Tim Pawlenty” narrative building around O’Malley at the moment.
5. Cory Booker: The Newark mayor will — unless a political meteor strikes — walk into a Senate seat this fall. That will immediately make him the second most prominent elected African American official in the country — if he isn’t already. With Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) offering a unequivocal pledge not to run in 2016, Booker will come under heavy pressure to look at the race.
4. Kirsten Gillibrand: No politician has impressed us more in the last few months than Gillibrand. Her work on gathering co-sponsors for the military sexual-assault measure she is pushing has shown a keen understanding of politics and how to use pressure to get what you want.
3. Andrew Cuomo: The New York governor doesn’t talk much about 2016, but his work over the past state legislative session suggests he has an eye on building a résuméfor that race. A sampling of his accomplishments via Real Clear Politics’ Scott Conroy: “A landmark gun-control law, his third on-time budget in a row, a boost in the minimum wage, new teacher evaluation standards, and a development-boosting initiative for economically distressed upstate New York.”
2. Joe Biden: Ah, God love him. The Biden profile in GQ magazine captured everything that people love about Biden and everything that makes him a risky bet as a presidential candidate. And it’s the same thing. The vice president is a throwback to an age when politicians went off script, said what they thought and let the chips fall where they may. It’s part of his appeal, but it’s also why staying on message is so incredibly difficult for him.
1. Hillary Clinton: From Nancy Pelosi to David Axelrod, everyone thinks Clinton is running and that she will be the nominee. We continue to believe that she hasn’t made up her mind but that, barring a health scare, she will run. Clinton would like to be president, and anyone who has that desire would be foolish to pass up a race that looks as favorable as this one does for her. And, Hillary Clinton is not foolish.