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Are Republicans really 'incapable' of beating Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said over the weekend that his party could not rise to Mrs. Clinton's level. But she might not be as formidable as it appears.

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Frankly, the argument being made by some that Clinton was just as much a heavyweight front-runner in 2008 and still wound up losing the nomination ignores the fact that Barack Obama was at that point already an acknowledged political superstar. He didn’t have Clinton’s network or name recognition, but most insiders saw him as a once-in-a-generation kind of orator. He was clearly a real threat.

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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This time around, there’s no one like that on the Democratic horizon to challenge Clinton. To put it bluntly, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is no Barack Obama. Neither is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If Clinton wants the nomination, there's a good chance it will be hers for the taking.

But whether she’d have as easy a time in the general election is another matter. It’s not hard for us to envision Governor Bush or Senator Rubio or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie giving Clinton a real run for her money. Yes, the party has some fundamentals to work out. It needs to improve its image on immigration and women’s issues. It needs to raise its turnout game. But many of those eyeing 2016 runs know that – and they’re already working to do it.

Clinton's current popularity, as we've written before, is in part a reflection of the nonpartisan role she's taken as secretary of State, as well as the nostalgia surrounding her husband's now-well-in-the-past White House years. If she were to become an official candidate – coming under attack from rivals, subjected to much harsher scrutiny in the press – it probably wouldn't take long for much of that warmth to fade.  

The real question may be whether Clinton ultimately decides to run at all. As The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor wrote over the weekend: “For her last presidential run, Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy nearly two years before Election Day – but the timing did not feel right to her, because it made the race endless, say former aides who hint she would wait much longer if she made a bid again.”

That means we’ve got two-plus years left of this kind of speculation. If, in the end, she winds up deciding not to take the plunge, Democrats would really have to scramble to find a new candidate to rally behind.


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