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Early Handicapping

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
By this time next year we will have likely have been through the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primaries. We might have been through the hype of Nevada and headed to the warm welcome of South Carolina.

So. Let's take a look at where we are. These are in no particular order, so please don't demand to know why your favorite wasn't mentioned first.

On the Republican side, the surprise du jour has been Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's quick start largely as a result of a speech he gave in Iowa a couple of weeks ago. Walker has run successfully in statewide elections three times (not counting primaries) since November 2010. That includes winning a recall election in 2012.

He hasn't won in a walk (getting between 52 and 53 percent each time) but Wisconsin is rarely confused with Texas on the Red-Blue continuum, and so gets high marks for his ability to attract non-base votes.

Jeb Bush is … Jeb Bush. I've been a Bush family groupie since Lee Atwater hired me to be spokesman for Vice President HW's PAC, the Fund for America's Future, so Jeb will be my default candidate - until or unless - someone convinces me otherwise.

If Bush and Walker are more-or-less leading the pack right now, here's my shorthand: The Bush team is not spending a great deal of time drawing up a plan to stop Walker. The Walker team is (or should be) spending time trying to figure out how to stop Bush.

How do I know this? Because I guarantee you that ever call from the Walker camp with every major donor includes this question: "How are you going to beat Jeb?"

And, Walker's campaign has to have an answer.

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have the same problem: They are seen as the Tea Party candidates at a time when the Tea Party is getting (pun intended) weaker.

If they end up chasing each other to the far edge of the Libertarian playbook, they will end up debating whether stop signs are a violation of our 4th Amendment rights.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has to deal with Bush when the primary parade moves to Florida. More than that, he might suffer from Barack Obama's ascension to the Presidency after a stint in state politics and less than a full term in the U.S. Senate. Rubio won a close election in 2010 getting 48.9 percent, but in a three way race, got full marks for the win.

In my opinion, Gov. Chris Christie cannot win the GOP nomination. I'm from New Jersey and he annoys me. More tactically, it appears Bush, rushing into the vacancy created when Mitt Romney bowed out, is making great strides in securing the Wall Street money that Christie's people have been counting on.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee's time has come and gone. He made a really strong run in 2008, but a weekly show on Fox News Channel is probably not enough to have maintained that level of loyalty and support.

Former Gov. Rick Perry might be the sleeper in this group. He doesn't need to jump very high to get over the bar he created in the 2012 cycle. All the "Oops" jokes that could possibly be written and told have been written and told. Still, he needs to demonstrate he can make though the early primaries and, more to the point, the early debates.

Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Gov. Bobby Jindal. No chance. Carson has zero background to be President; Santorum had his run last time, and; Jindal has been pumping out emails at least once a day forever and they haven't made a dent.

Governors Pence and Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Sen. Lindsay Graham are not, as of this writing, serious players.

This time eight years ago the GOP leader in the polls? Rudy Giuliani.

On the Democrat side, only one name matters right now: Hillary. If she pulls the trigger and runs she will likely be the nominee.

However, this time eight years ago the Charlie Cook/RT Strategies poll had Sen. Clinton leading Sen. Obama 42-20. Quinnipiac's poll had her leading 38-23.

A funny thing happened on the way to the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

Also, keep a close eye on the Obama team dragging someone else into the race, if only to have a reason to plant negative stories about Clinton. If foreign affairs continues to be a central focus, the sniping over Sec. Clinton's four years at State will be at least illuminating.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Wikipedia pages showing month-by-month polling eight years ago, and to Dr. Larry Sabato's early look at the candidates.

Also a Mullfoto from the "snow day" in Our Nation's Capital earlier this week.

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