A half-dozen potential US Republican Party presidential contenders spent last week peacocking at a luxury resort in Florida, schmoozing with donors and sizing up the competition in the party’s most fractured field in decades at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference.
The summit felt like a test run for what is increasingly shaping up to be a brutal showdown for the Republican presidential nomination among more than a dozen potential contenders, including a cluster of governors.
While the potential Republican field appears stronger than four years ago, with more than a dozen potential contenders, the Republicans are without a front-runner.
In contrast, former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, should she choose to pursue it.
The Republicans are fresh off victorious midterm elections, when the party seized control of the US Senate, expanded its majority in the House of Representatives and swept gubernatorial races across the nation. However, the outlook for Republicans is expected to be more complicated in 2016, when the party must find a way to court minority and female voters.
In Florida, the Republicans rarely criticized each other in public, but there were subtle jabs.
Within hours of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie featuring on the cover of a magazine in an illustration of him kissing a baby’s head, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal suggested that the party needs bold leaders, not showmen.
“We have enough politicians who try to be celebrities and kiss babies and cut ribbons,” Jindal said.
Christie handed over the reins as the chairman of the association at the event, ending what has arguably been a politically life-saving tenure that helped repair his reputation after a political retribution traffic scandal in New Jersey badly tainted his brand earlier in the year.
During the midterms, he raised tens of millions of US dollars to help elect Republican governors, boosting his 2016 prospects and broadening his national network.
Jindal has traveled the nation laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run, including making speeches on military and foreign policy. He has said he is “thinking and praying” about whether to run.
The candidates are not expected to start declaring their intentions until the first quarter of next year. However, the developing tensions were already apparent as five potential candidates appeared together on stage to answer questions from moderator Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
Ohio Governor John Kasich repeatedly crossed words with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Both were fresh off re-election victories that boosted their national profiles.
Texas Governor Rick Perry left little doubt that the race is on.
“I think the campaign has engaged. We’re talking about issues here that are going to affect the presidential election in 2016,” Perry said. “I think we need to have this conversation with America.”
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