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Is It 2016 Yet? Moves By Hillary Clinton & Rand Paul Suggest Yes

Recent policy announcements by Clinton and Paul have convinced many that they are all about the 2016 presidential campaign.
Saul Loeb/AFP/ Getty Images and Charles Dharapak/AP
Recent policy announcements by Clinton and Paul have convinced many that they are all about the 2016 presidential campaign.

If you have any interest in politics at all, you pretty much know two things. One, that the next presidential election, on Nov. 8, 2016, is only 1,324 days away. And two, you won't be surprised if people are focusing on it in March of 2013.

Sometimes the speculation is silly, but sometimes it's not. Judging from what we've seen and heard from Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, the speculation may be on target.

The two may be miles apart ideologically but they do have at least one thing in common: both have been talked about as White House contenders from the moment they began thinking about public office, probably because of their last name. "Hillary for President" boosters date back to at least 1992, when her husband, then the governor of Arkansas, was running for president himself. But once his two terms were over, serious focus on Hillary began. The only First Lady ever in history to seek office, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and considered running for president in 2004. She declined, won re-election in '06, and of course went for all the marbles in 2008, losing to Barack Obama in a classic marathon battle for the Democratic nomination.

Rand Paul's rise has been even more dramatic. A relative unknown when he announced for the Senate from Kentucky in 2010 — about all we knew was that he was an ophthalmologist and son of libertarian favorite Ron Paul — he upset Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's choice in the primary and then went on to win the seat in November. And with his father making one last presidential hurrah in 2012 before retiring from the House, many supporters of the dad seemed to quickly gravitate to the son.

Rand Paul's timing could not be better. The party couldn't get rid of Mitt Romney quickly enough; he seemed to be old news the moment Obama claimed victory for a second term (or at least after Karl Rove conceded Ohio). And his foreign policy views — the anti-foreign entanglements position that had long been described as "isolationist" and out-of-the-GOP mainstream, views that got his father attention, if not votes — are now being embraced by more and more Republicans, especially in the wake of the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan experiences.

So when Rand Paul gets up in the Senate and gabs on for most of 13 hours questioning the constitutionality of the Obama administration's drone program (or more specifically, the legality of it being used on American targets in America), people stood up and took notice. When Paul spoke at the recent CPAC event and said it's time to ease penalties for illegal drug use — a true libertarian position — he not only broke with the GOP's longstanding lock-em-up philosophy but he also made a point of connecting with younger voters, a group that neither Romney nor 2008 nominee John McCain was successful at wooing.

And then came his speech last Tuesday before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in which he kind of (but didn't really, or did he?) talked about a new pathway for the millions of people who are in the country illegally. I'm still not convinced what he actually said, but the headlines everywhere said he "offered" a plan to solve the immigration problem. Regardless of its content, it led to countless stories about him in a position to run for president in 2016.

Too soon to be talking about him in those terms? How about this: Was it too soon to talk about Obama running for president after his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention — before he was even elected to the Senate?

Here's the first hour of Paul's filibuster, courtesy YouTube:

Meanwhile, if there were any doubts about Hillary Clinton's intentions for 2016, they seemed to disappear last week when she appeared in a video for the Human Rights Campaign and announced that yes, she supports same-sex marriage.

If Rand Paul is ahead of his party on foreign policy and drug laws, Hillary Clinton seems to be trailing hers on gay marriage. It's been a year since the president and vice president (in reverse order) announced their positions/evolving. Other possible Dem prez hopefuls, such as Maryland's Martin O'Malley and New York's Andrew Cuomo, also endorsed marriage equality last year. In fact, it seems like everyone in the party has come to that conclusion before she did.

Now, in fairness, she was not about to spell out her views while she was secretary of state these past four years. But the video, which you can see here courtesy of YouTube, did have a "don't forget me" feel to it.

And so, the question everyone has been asking, quite legitimately, is what her announcement has to do with her calculations about 2016 — and whether she is playing catchup. Here's the take of Politico's Maggie Haberman, who called it a "strong signal she's very much thinking about her political future, even if a decision on 2016 is not for quite some time":

"Coming less than three months after she departed the State Department, Clinton's move was about as surprising as a setting sun. Her party, not to mention her husband and daughter, was already on record as backing gay marriage. Three days earlier, Republican Sen. Rob Portman — last year a leading contender to be his party's VP pick — said he was backing gay marriage after his college-age son came out two years ago.

Clinton's video, released through the Human Rights Campaign — which is run by longtime Clinton ally Chad Griffin — was clearly intended to be something of a low-key event. A week ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing, arguments in a gay marriage-related case, the announcement was well-timed.

But it also was almost an afterthought in the gay marriage debate that has gone on nationally. And it also opens the door for fresh questions to Clinton on issues of the day, such as immigration and gun control — not that she'll need to offer an opinion on any of then until she's ready."

Lest we forget: Hillary Clinton will be 69 years old in 2016. And that would make her — were she to win — the oldest woman ever elected president of the U.S.

All of which leads us to another in our series of Political Junkie Fake Polls.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Meanwhile, here are some samplings from the mailbag:

Q: Can Stephen Colbert's sister win in South Carolina? — Ellen Cohen, Philadelphia, Pa.

A: South Carolina's 1st Congressional District is solidly Republican; Mitt Romney carried it by 18 percentage points last year over President Obama. It hasn't elected a Democrat since 1978. Having said that, it is obvious what gives Elizabeth Colbert-Busch a shot in the May 7 general election: the fact that Mark Sanford, should he win the April 2 GOP runoff, will be her opponent. There is something to be said about the politics of redemption, but there's also something to be said about the politics of betrayal, and Colbert-Busch is hoping that she can make inroads with Republican women.

For those who will never forgive Sanford, this button is for them.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
For those who will never forgive Sanford, this button is for them.

In last Tuesday's 16-candidate GOP field, Sanford as expected came out on top, with 37 percent. Finishing second was Curtis Bostic, a former member of the Charleston County Council who had the support of many evangelical voters. Sanford will no doubt drown Bostic financially in the next eight days. But if an anti-Sanford sentiment is real and can unite behind Bostic, we could be looking at a close runoff.

The odds still say Sanford wins both the runoff and the special election.

For 30 years, until his death in December 1970, the 1st CD was represented by L. Mendel Rivers, a Democrat and the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. For the decade after that, his successor was his godson, Mendel Davis. But when Davis retired in 1980, the district turned Republican. Tommy Hartnett, a former Democrat, won the seat in 1980 and held it until 1986, when he was narrowly defeated in a bid to become lt. gov. He was succeeded by Arthur Ravenel Jr., a popular local figure who had spent decades building up the Charleston GOP.

Davis, who left Congress after 1980, is the last Democrat to hold the seat.  Hartnett held it until he ran for LG in 1986.  Sanford, who held it from 1995-2000, is back for more.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
Davis, who left Congress after 1980, is the last Democrat to hold the seat. Hartnett held it until he ran for LG in 1986. Sanford, who held it from 1995-2000, is back for more.

When Ravenel decided to run for governor in 1994, a sizable field of Republican candidates got into the race to replace him. The favorite was Van Hipp, the former S.C. GOP party chair, who finished well on top in the initial primary, but nowhere near enough to win the nomination outright. The candidate who came in second was a real estate investor by the name of Mark Sanford, who ran as an outsider and beat Hipp in the runoff. Sanford said he would only serve three terms and kept to his promise, retiring in 2000 (but not before becoming part of the group that attempted to oust Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997).

He was followed in the 1st by longtime state Rep. Henry Brown Jr., a 65-year old businessman whose years in the state legislature were filled with instances of working across party lines. Running without major party opposition in both 2002 and 2004, the national anti-Republican tide reached even into his district in 2006. He fell under 60 percent of the vote that year, and in 2008, running against a wealthy Democratic philanthropist who poured $700,000 of her own money into the race and portrayed Brown as out of touch, he was held to 52 percent.

Brown retired in 2010 and was succeeded by Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who defeated the sons of Strom Thurmond and ex-Gov. Carroll Campbell for the GOP nod. Re-elected in 2012, Scott was appointed to fill Jim DeMint's vacated Senate seat in December, which is how we got to this year's special election.

Q: Where can I find Jack Pitney's piece on Republican outreach efforts that you mentioned in the podcast? — Joseph McInnis, Fukuoka, Japan

A: Click here to read this great article by Pitney, a professor at Claremont-McKenna College on the history of GOP outreach to minority voters.

Q: Neal Conan always mentions it on Talk of the Nation each week, but where can we see the infamous Wall of Shame? — Loren Kirkpatrick, Nashville, Tenn.

A: Each week on TOTN's Political Junkie segment, we give Junkie t-shirts and buttons to the winners of the trivia question and the randomly-selected ScuttleButton puzzles. The "Wall of Shame" is where the crack TOTN staff posts photos of the winners. Click here to see it.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the divisions on the Right with special guest Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union. You can listen to the segment here:

March 20 Junkie segment on TOTN

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a Political Junkie T-shirt but also a 3-1/2-inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??


March 26-27 — U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases about California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act

April 2 — Runoff in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District to replace Tim Scott (R). Candidates: Mark Sanford and Curtis Bostic. Also: St. Louis mayoral election.

April 9 — Special election in Illinois' 2nd CD to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. (D), who resigned.

April 24 — Hillary Clinton first-post government paid speech, National Multi Housing Council in Dallas.

April 30 — Special Massachusetts Senate primary.

May 7 — Special election in S.C. 01.

May 21 — Los Angeles mayoral runoff. Also: Pittsburgh mayoral primary.

June 4 — Special election in Missouri's 8th CD to replace Jo Ann Emerson (R), who resigned.

June 25 — Special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now secretary of state.

Aug. 6 — Seattle mayoral primary.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: His campaign on the verge of total collapse, Sen. Ted Kennedy wins a dramatic upset over President Jimmy Carter in the New York Democratic presidential primary. His victory was aided by the United States' vote at the U.N. condemning Israel for building settlements in the West Bank, a vote that angered Jewish voters, especially in New York. Carter lost the state by a 59-41 percent margin, despite the support of Democratic powers such as Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo and NYC Mayor Ed Koch. Kennedy also beat Carter in the Connecticut primary today as well. Today's sweep by Kennedy was the only time he won a contest this year outside of his home state of Massachusetts. On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan won a clear majority of the delegates in New York over George H.W. Bush, though Bush did beat him in Connecticut (March 25, 1980).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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