We've still yet to elect a President in this election cycle, but last week's superstorm seems to have shone a spotlight on two potential candidates for 2016.
No sooner had the winds from the Hurricane Sandy Superstorm died than New Jersey residents experienced another round of gale-force gusts: the bluster from the state's pugnacious governor Chris Christie. An outspoken conservative, Christie has had no shortage of previous barbs targeted at President Obama. Yet those jabs turned to praise as Christie lauded Obama's swift action in the wake of the storm's landfall along the Jersey coast.
For Christie, it's a shrewd move that sets himself up for a run in 2016 as a moderate, someone willing to work with both sides of the aisle. Or to at least be nice to someone from the other side of the aisle when disaster relief is at stake. In a way, it's the kind of move to the middle that Romney pulled during the first presidential debate which helped reverse the momentum of the campaign. At this summer's Republican National Convention, Christie's keynote speech was largely self-referential, focusing more on himself than Romney, and certainly felt like a speech from someone working his ways up the party ranks. His time in the spotlight during the Hurricane Sandy disaster struck a more positive public figure than his RNC appearance: a man determined to protect his constituents and willing to put politics aside for the betterment of those constituents.
Of course, the candidacy is far from Christie's to have if Romney loses. VP candidate Paul Ryan is a younger, more charismatic man whose libertarian stances appeal far more to the further right/Tea Party electorate. And there is, of course, a Bush: Jeb Bush, to be exact. But Christie's leadership during the post-Sandy crisis will stick in a lot of peoples' minds, especially coming in the final days of the 2012 campaign. If Christie hopes to run in 2016, he'll have a sturdy example to fall back on that will be a bit more difficult for Democrats to assail.
Meanwhile, a rising star of the Democratic party was building on an already sterling reputation with his own hyperlocal disaster response. Newark mayor Cory Booker, a renowned Obama acolyte, was hyper- active on Twitter, responding to questions and requests for help from citizens and doling out piles of informaiton. Booker's response was far from the typical politician or community leader. Instead of simply repeating generic information, Booker directly responded to residents, giving the correct phone numbers, passing along personal requests, and even invited residents without power over to his house and feeding them.
While Booker hasn't been as prominent a candidate to take over his party's leadership in the near-future, he is considered a rising star of the Democratic party. And one that's not afraid to occasionally butt up against party leadership: while his brief disagreement with Obama earlier this year seemed testy for Dems, it certainly made Booker more attractive to moderates who are seeking a bipartisan leader. In a way, Booker seems to be appealing as Obama was to voters in 2004 when he delivered his famous DNC keynote.
Regardless of who wins this election, the Democrats will be in need of a new candidate in 2016 and attempting to hold on to the presidency for more than two terms, the first time they would have done that since FDR/Truman.* For starters, VP Joe Biden isn't ruling out a run in 2016, having run for the highest office twice before. One big strike against him, though, will be his age. Experienced Democrats less likely to face the same scrutiny include Maryland Gov. Mike O'Malley, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But Booker is a realistic wild card as a younger candidate as is San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.
Of course, this is all assuming we won't see a run from Hillary Clinton who, serving as secretary of state, has evolved into something of a beloved stateswoman, experiencing a complete image rebound from the aftermath of the bruising 2008 Democratic primary race she lost to Obama. While it's not a smooth path for Clinton, if she decides to enter the race in 2016, she would seem to have a leg up on the competition.
But, in 2006, no one might have guessed the younger candidate, a first-term senator from Illinois, would be *this close* to re-election to the presidency now. Booker's energy and openness - his Twitter binging is hardly unique to just Sandy response - have helped raise his profile nationally. If there's one thing holding him back, it's a need for more experience in a higher-level office: a run for Senator in 2014 can't be ruled out.
And this leads to the most interesting aspect of all of this. Yes, there's a chance the 2016 presidential could be the Battle of Jersey. But there's also just a good a chance that Christie and Booker could be squaring off much sooner: New Jersey's gubernatorial election is a year away and this seems to be on Booker's mind just as much as any presidential run.
Regardless of what position they're in three years from now, when the next round of presidential politicking will be going in earnest, their unique responses to Sandy have placed Christie and Booker in a bigger spotlight in the national consciousness and has provided a springboard for both a bigger future.