These supercompelling intrastate fights could define the 2016 GOP race
An odd dynamic is shaping up in the GOP. There is a very real potential for multiple intra-state fights between presidential contenders in at least four important states. Consider:
Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry
Florida: Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush
Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan
Ohio: Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman
Of course, not all of them will run — but they all could. And imagine if most or even some of them did. Each of these in-state rivalries would pit a governor or former governor against a senator or member of Congress, which is itself kind of fascinating. It's the executive from outside the Beltway versus the insider-y creature of Washington (at least in the govs' favored framing). And indeed, the governors — who get to stay in their home state full time — have a decided advantage. They can not only enjoy their state's political resources and infrastructure, but enjoy a messaging advantage by being outside the halls of a widely loathed Congress. As Scott Walker told USA Today last year, "We need to elect either a current or a former governor." How convenient.
If Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo both run, you would ostensibly have this same dynamic playing out on the Democratic side of the aisle — though that deserves a huge asterisk for a variety of reasons (for example, do we consider New York to be Clinton's home state?).
This phenomenon is not without precedent. Last time around, we had two candidates from Texas (Ron Paul and Rick Perry) and Minnesota (Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty). And there were efforts to draft both former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and current Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Paul and Bachmann were always destined to end up as novelty candidates, Pawlenty ended up being a dud, and the Indiana guys stayed home. This time around, you have four states that each have two potentially viable presidential candidates.
In Texas, you have a sitting governor and a sitting U.S. senator — both of whom seem incredibly likely to run. As a source close to Cruz told National Journal recently, "At this point it's 90/10 he's in. And honestly, 90 is lowballing it." Similarly, Perry sure looks like he's going to run, and based on early performances, he will do a lot better than he did during 2012's sputtering flameout. (Most people don't know this, but on the day Rick Perry announced for president in 2011, Ted Cruz endorsed him for president — in a short interview with yours truly.)
Now, the Lone Star state is a big state, but is it big enough for these two gun-slingers? Perry, as a three-term governor, is sure to do a better job of rounding up Texas money and support, and building an infrastructure. A lot of Texas businessmen are surely surprised and maybe even disappointed by how Cruz has behaved in D.C.
Perry's 2012 candidacy may have harmed his national reputation and bruised his ego, but it also made him a shrewder candidate. Like a playoff team that makes it to the postseason and falls short, then returns the next year only to triumph (think about the Miami Heat losing in the NBA finals to the Dallas Mavericks only to crush the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year), there's a learning advantage to having been to the "show" before.
Cruz, by the force of his rhetoric, will dominate amongst a national audience of Tea Party conservatives. In this way, Cruz can live off the land, garnering attention and support by throwing red meat to his party's right wing, and raising money via the internet and mail.
This could be an epic clash. It could get ugly. Just last year, Perry called the government shutdown Cruz helped orchestrate "political theater." That might not sound like much, but the fact that Perry publicly criticized a Cruz project is a harbinger of things to come. Imagine the Texas swagger we're going to see. This is a matchup where the ambitions and personalities of the candidates could lead to a fight where each man thinks he's the alpha dog. Better order some popcorn and stay tuned for a Texas-sized family feud.
Florida is more likely an either-or scenario. On one hand, you have former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is clearly flirting with the idea of running. This is not just talk; most recently, former President George W. Bush said that brother Jeb "wants to be president." On the other hand, you have Sen. Marco Rubio, a young and charismatic Latino whose hawkish foreign policy reputation seems to benefit from the chaos around the world. But unlike Texas, Florida is more likely a mutually exclusive state. Rubio was a protege of Jeb Bush, and the two would presumably be competing for the same donors and support base in the Sunshine State. It is unlikely, but certainly possible, both men will run.
If they do both run, expect the Florida establishment and its money to go with Jeb, while Rubio would get more grassroots support. (Bush's support for Common Core could be an issue for conservative activists.) Rubio and Bush would probably avoid criticizing each other, at least until they had to. These guys like each other.
In the Badger State, you have Gov. Scott Walker, who — assuming he survives his 2014 re-election (he's ahead) — would have the distinction of having taken on the unions and won. On the other hand, you have Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's last vice presidential nominee, which is in itself a reasonable argument for a candidacy.
Organizationally, Walker would have a huge edge. As a House member, Ryan isn't even elected statewide, and Walker has run three statewide races in four years (one of which involved fending off a recall effort). Walker's team is seasoned.
I don't see either of these men attacking each other unless it gets down to a one-on-one for the Wisconsin primary. Walker would then tout his executive experience and accomplishments, and contrast that with Washington, and Ryan's votes for things like TARP. Ryan's best move? Trying to out-wonk Walker on policy.
Lastly, there's the ever-important swing-state of Ohio, where both Gov. John Kasich (who ran for president in 2000) and Sen. Rob Portman have been making noise. As Connie Schultz noted in Politico Magazine, with Kasich's "burnished conservative pedigree and past congressional experience as chairman of the House Budget Committee, the governor is in an enviable spot: that of the overlooked guy everyone should be watching." The most recent Quinnipiac poll shows Kasich winning re-election by a staggering 22 points. He may come out of November positioned as the most electable Republican in the nation.
Portman has a distinguished resume as a former congressman and director of the Office of Management and Budget. He will have to overcome the perception that he is boring on television, but he is incredibly personable in one-on-one settings, a factor which will pay dividends as he continues to visit places like New Hampshire and now Iowa.
It would likely be hard for Portman to gain much traction against Kasich, who will have a far stronger organization and in-state fundraising network, not to mention the fact that the state party is stacked with Kasich loyalists. Another important point: An Ohio insider notes that Kasich and his team are known to be very aggressive, while Portman and his team are polite. If it gets nasty, bet on Kasich.
Aside from serving as a curiosity, these inner-divisional "playoff"-type situations set up some real drama in states that might otherwise not see a lot of early action. "Forget about Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina," said John Dunagan, a public affairs executive who ran the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential effort in Michigan. "Several GOP presidential contenders may have non-electoral 'primaries' of sorts in their home states."
"Keep a close eye on the battles within Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Wisconsin [as the candidates compete] for donors, senior staff and long-time activists," he said.
2016 is coming, and its potential for internecine battle cannot be underestimated. We hear a lot of talk about the GOP civil war, but 2016 could pit mentor against protege, neighbor against neighbor, governor against senator, and, very likely, Texan against Texan.
Editor's note: Matt Lewis' wife formerly worked as a consultant for Ted Cruz.