WASHINGTON (AP) — There's a whole year of campaigning, positioning and politicking to go before the next campaign for president kicks off with the Iowa Caucus in early 2016. Here's a look at 10 things to look out for next year that might tell us something about how that campaign to come (which is really already underway) may shake out.
1. Courtrooms Before Campaigns
Three Republican governors who appear likely to run for president face legal issues at home that could derail a campaign before it gets started. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted in August on two felony counts of abuse of power for publicly threatening to veto funding for public corruption prosecutors, and then making good on that threat. An investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups is on hold pending action from the state Supreme Court, while federal prosecutors in New Jersey continue to investigate what role Gov. Chris Christie's administration played, if any, in tying up traffic on the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
2. Middle Class Economics
The stock market is up, unemployment is down and economists are giddy about prospects for America's economy to grow in 2015. But while economic indicators are glowing, how middle class voters benefit amid the recovery will shape the presidential campaign. So far, many have not: the typical American family's income is 8 percent lower than it was before the recession hit in 2007. That helps, in part, explain President Barack Obama's stagnant approval ratings, and could be a problem for Hillary Rodham Clinton or any other Democrat expected to defend his, and therefore the party's management, of the economy.
3. Iowa Straw Poll
The Iowa Republican Party's presidential straw poll has come under sharp scrutiny in the past two campaigns after elevating candidates out of step with the larger Iowa and national GOP. The event, held the summer before the winter caucuses, is also a source of tension among campaigns which pay a steep price to take part in what is nominally a fundraiser for the state party. Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa's six-term governor, wants to end it, while the Iowa Republican Party chairman and central committee have the votes to keep it going. The committee is expected to decide at its Jan. 10 meeting the fate of the 40-year fixture on the presidential campaign calendar.
4. GOP Governors and Medicaid
Two years into the Affordable Care Act, Republican governors remain divided over whether to adopt a key provision of the law that provides health insurance to poor uninsured people via Medicaid. Possible GOP White House prospects, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, accepted what's known as Medicaid expansion. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal refused, citing concern over the cost. Others, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, adopted hybrid programs that expand insurance coverage with limits. How voters view Obamacare and its impacts in states with different approaches to its implementation is sure to figure in the party's presidential primary debates.
5. Right to Work
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faces the prospect of another public fight with organized labor early in 2015 should the state's GOP-controlled legislature try to pass a "right to work" law, which would make private labor union membership optional. Walker's successful effort to curtail the union rights of public employees led to weeks of visible and vocal protests in Madison during his first term, something he's eager to avoid as he weighs if and when to enter the race for president. But it is a priority for Republican lawmakers who expanded their majorities in the midterm elections and aren't as tied to the law's presidential political implications as their ambitious governor.
6. Republican Debates
After a prolonged 2012 primary season that left their presidential nominee bloodied, the Republican National Committee is making significant changes to its debate schedule ahead of the presidential primary season. Party leaders plan to dramatically reduce the number of debates and assert more control over the selection of moderators. Still, logistical questions remain for a 2016 primary field that could feature well more than a dozen high-profile contenders. When the debates begin, candidates may struggle to speak for more than a few minutes on a stage featuring so many podiums.
7. Immigration Actions
Perhaps no issue will riddle Republicans as much as immigration in the next presidential campaign. GOP hopefuls must balance an appeal to conservatives who detest anything they view as "amnesty" for people living in the U.S. illegally, while also reaching out to the nation's fast-growing Hispanic population. Republicans in Congress successfully pushed to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the nation's immigration enforcement, only through next February, creating a moment in which they can try to challenge Obama's executive action on immigration while in control of both houses of Congress. Some GOP lawmakers are also at work drafting business-friendly bills to boost visas for farm and high-tech workers. Republicans running for president will be asked if they back their party's actions in Congress, and if not, be expected to propose their own solutions.
8. Common Core
In a Republican primary where the candidates may have more similarities than differences, the party's debate over the Common Core education standards could be explosive. Once endorsed by state leaders in both parties, some conservatives have attacked the voluntary standards as a government takeover of education. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may have more on the line than anyone, having dedicated much of his political career to education and refusing to withdraw his support for Common Core. One-time supporters, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have reversed course and become vocal critics. The issue could emerge as a deal breaker among many conservatives who hold great sway in Republican primaries.
9. Clinton and the Economy
Hillary Rodham Clinton drew snickers this past summer when, while promoting a book for which she was handsomely paid, she said she and husband Bill Clinton were "dead broke" when they left the White House. She continues to give speeches that command fees of $200,000 or more, traveling to them by private jet. With an income that places her among the top 1 percent of Americans, and close ties to Wall Street dating to her time as a senator from New York, how Clinton shapes her economic message will be watched by a party with a renewed focus on income inequality and economic anxieties for middle-class families.
10. WWWD: What Will Warren Do?
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has, for months, told anyone able to ask that she "is not running for president." That has not stopped hopeful liberals in the Democratic Party from talking up a Warren campaign. Will it be enough for them if Warren were to declare that she "will not" run for president? Or will their hopes for an insurgent campaign from the left linger deep into 2015, should the populist senator stick with her grammatically flexible description of her plans for 2016?
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and David Scott in Washington; Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey; Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Michael J. Mishak in Miami; and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.