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Who will wind up as GOP presidential nominee in 2016?

Senator Rand Paul speaks at Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority event in Washington, last Friday.
By Chris Cillizza
The Washington Post

A look at the frontrunners currently making waves

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney hasn’t disappeared from the political scene the way many people thought he would after coming up on the losing end in the 2012 presidential race. But that doesn’t mean he’s running for president — or even thinking about running for president — in 2016.

Talk of a possible third presidential bid for Romney has surfaced of late, with poll numbers showing that he is well regarded by Republican voters and a growing sense within the GOP smart set that no candidate has really emerged from the pack as yet.

Romney has, of course, batted down such speculation. “I’m not running, and talk of a draft is kind of silly,” he told Meet the Press moderator David Gregory this month.

But one quirk of human nature is this: we always want what we can’t have. Or, in Romney’s own incredibly awkward (but accurate) phrasing: “The unavailable is always the most attractive, right? That goes in dating as well.”

The more Romney insists he’s not interested, the more people become intrigued at the prospect of him running. Remember how Al Gore suddenly became a figure of maximum intrigue in the political world just a few years removed from losing an ultra-winnable presidential race in 2000? He did it by making clear that he didn’t want to run. Works every time.

Now, Romney has been around the political game long enough to know that people are interested in you only as long as you are uninterested in them. As soon as Romney indicates that, well, sure, he might want to run again, all of the old complaints — He’s too wooden! He’s out of touch! — would come roaring back.

Say what you will about Romney, but he is no dummy. He gets it. And that’s why he’s not running.

Now, onto the 10 with the best chance of winding up as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

10. Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican’s total lack of interest in making a play for a House leadership post after Eric Cantor’s stunning loss this month left me, again, wondering just what the heck the congressman wants out of his political career. The answer is elusive, but it now seems to be that he wants to bide his time.

9. Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor is running for president. The latest piece of evidence was a two-day swing through Iowa. Jindal, in his day job, is building a record that hard-core conservatives will love. He rejected the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and, more recently, issued an executive order to pull the state from the Common Core education standards programme.

8. Ted Cruz. The past week in politics has to give the Republican senator from Texas some pause. His preferred candidate in Oklahoma’s Republican Senate primary got walloped Tuesday, the same night that tea party insurgent Chris McDaniel inexplicably lost to establishment pick Thad Cochran in the Mississippi Senate runoff. Cruz has a loyal base of support. But it’s not big enough for him to win the nomination.

7. Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor is doing the sorts of things one does when seeking the presidency. He stumped for Mike Campbell, a candidate for South Carolina lieutenant governor, this month. And polling in Iowa shows that he remains popular; a recent Des Moines Register poll showed Huckabee had the second-highest favourable ratings of any potential 2016 GOP candidate.

6. John Kasich. The Ohio governor is the “it boy” of the smart set in DC at the moment. He looks to be on his way to a comfortable reelection victory in the swingiest state in the country at the presidential level. He has run for president before, and no one we talk to says he doesn’t want to again.

5. Chris Christie. Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. The news, which broke this week, that the feds are investigating the New Jersey governor’s use of Port Authority funds to repair the Pulaski Skyway further complicates Christie’s political rehabilitation efforts. Whether anything in this latest investigation gets to Christie remains unclear, but it’s just another bad story line that he has to deal with at a time when he wants to pivot to the process of running for president.

4. Scott Walker. Speaking of bad headlines, the Wisconsin governor has had to weather some of his own lately over allegations of illegal coordination between his 2012 recall campaign and outside groups aiding that effort. But last week, an attorney for the special prosecutor tasked with looking into the allegations made clear that Walker was not a target of the probe. That was a nice piece of news for the governor — and should help him quiet the storm of coverage that had popped up over the past 10 days or so.

3. Rand Paul. The senator from Kentucky is the most interesting candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s also the one — with the possible exceptions of Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) and Jeb Bush — who can make a credible case that nominating him would expand the GOP into parts of the electorate the party hasn’t been able to reach in recent years. Paul remains somewhat unpredictable — that’s also part of his appeal — and it remains to be seen whether he could win a one-on-one fight with a more establishment candidate.

2. Marco Rubio. His record in the Senate — with the exception of immigration reform — is solidly conservative, and he is probably the most naturally gifted candidate in the field. We keep hearing whispers that Rubio’s record during his time as speaker of the Florida House is ripe for an opposition researcher, but we’re not there yet.

1. Jeb Bush. Until he says “no” — and we still think that’s more likely than him saying “yes” — we are going to keep the former Florida governor at the top of these rankings. That ranking is built largely on his last name and the political and fundraising muscle it represents.

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