US presidential race

A tough fight in a crowded field


The early stages of an American presidential race, as the field fills with the hopeless and the eccentric, can often seem more diverting than consequential. But recent history shows early obscurity is no barrier to ultimate success and apparently unassailable frontrunners can stumble and lose to once despised rivals.

The announcement last Friday by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that he will not seek the Republican nomination was almost as big a surprise as the news a few weeks earlier that he was considering a third run for the presidency. But his announcement could help to reshape the Republican contest, offering a boost to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has already won the support of big donors on the moderate wing of the party. As the son and brother of former presidents, Mr Bush is a scion of the most powerful dynasty in Republican politics, but he is viewed with suspicion by many party activists.

Radicals like senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and social conservatives such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum are competing for the support of the rank and file and for the largesse of mega-donors like the billionaire Koch brothers, who have promised to spend almost $1 billion on the 2016 race. In recent days, a new potential frontrunner has been emerging in the shape of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a tough economic conservative who appeals to both Wall Street and the Republican base.

As the Republican contest gets noisier, Hillary Clinton’s lead over all other potential Democratic candidates has expanded to the point where she may, according to her supporters, delay an announcement until as late as July. Indeed, some in the Clinton camp believe the former secretary of state will be able to avoid taking part in any bruising debates in advance of a coronation as the Democratic nominee next year. Her experience in 2008, when her apparently unassailable early lead was overturned by Barack Obama, should encourage Mrs Clinton to avoid such overconfidence and prepare for a tough fight.