Who (none too soon, in my opinion) will be our next president?

The 2016 presidential sweepstakes is well underway. Two Republicans have declared their intentions, while numerous Republicans flood the field unofficially; one Democrat leads her party for the time being.

With as many as 20 serious contenders vying for the GOP primary nod, the contest will become a real donnybrook before it is all over. New Hampshire and Iowa already are being buffeted by candidates. New Hampshire holds the nation’s first primary; Iowa the earliest caucus.

Early polling and early thinking reveal a race between establishment and outside-the-establishment candidates.

Jeb Bush, a former highly successful Florida governor, and Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s current governor, appear to be equally strong contenders for the Republican nomination.

Bush , however, would be the third president from the same family — a fact that will influence his chances greatly. Will name recognition and a conservative record as Florida governor override Bush fatigue for the voters?

Bush will have plenty of financial support and his Mexican-born wife will help with the Hispanic vote, the fastest growing segment of our population. In order to be successful in the primaries, however, Jeb must find a way to neutralize early conservative discontent with his position on Common Core curriculum and he needs to convince some voters that he has the right plan for immigration reform.

Walker currently rides the tide of success in fighting for “right to work” laws that have made him a target of big labor. His stand on this and other issues in his state has engendered death threats. He has consistently fought back attempts to remove him from office and has earned himself an image of a courageous conservative.

Walker has momentum, but needs lots of fund raising support to make it. He has had a couple of early stumbles on the primary campaign trail.

The third contender from the so-called establishment group is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He is young, hispanic and telegenic. An excellent speaker in command of the facts, he offers diversity with conservatism. He is however, a first-termer in the Senate and faces a real challenge in a Florida primary against Bush.

Then there are the tea party favorites. Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas was the first official candidate for president. Cruz was impressive in his announcement from Liberty College, speaking for 45 minutes without a teleprompter.

Cruz is undoubtedly the perfect candidate for the right wing of the party. His extreme conservatism appeals to the core of the party primary voters. This, however, is both a blessing and a curse. If by some miracle Cruz is the Republican nominee, his evangelical support probably would not be enough in a general election. Do not underestimate this politician son of a Cuban immigrant; he brings a great deal of debate talent with him to this race. Cruz will need to overcome an over-the-top image.

Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky, the libertarians favorite, was the second Republican to announce his intention to seek the presidency and is the biggest challenger to Cruz’s support from the tea party wing. He is an extremely hard-working campaigner who benefits from his father, Ron Paul’s, name recognition. Paul’s greatest disadvantage is his image as a “dove” on military and foreign affairs, in a party that is “hawkish” in that regard.

A third contender for the very conservative core voter in the Republican Party is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. This southerner, from the part of the nation where the party is strongest, has the name recognition from a previous run for president and new popularity from his Fox TV show, which he has quit to pursue the presidency. Huckabee has support from blue-collar social conservatives. Fund raising, plus too many similar candidates in the field, will be Huckabee’s biggest hurdles to overcome.

Cruz, Paul and Huckabee are men of conviction, courageous in their stand for what they believe in and in how they lead their lives. They do not deserve the liberal derision that will be visited upon them in the campaign. I appreciate passionate believers.

Political realities, however, would indicate that the dominance of money in politics, and the changing mores of our society, unfortunately, provide them no predictable path to the presidency at this time. Therefore, my early prediction is, if not another Bush vs. Clinton election, then keep your eye on Walker of Wisconsin, as voters may seek a courageous and dynamic new face.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton may not be a slam dunk after all. If she falters, progressive-liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren lurks. Look for John Kerry to emerge as a dark horse. He would be the choice of President Barack Obama.

Independents will elect our next president. It won’t be Hillary.

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.


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