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An Early Lineup Emerges For 2016 Presidential Race

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Times of crisis and consternation are also times when political landscapes are rearranged. The Republican presidential field seems to get more crowded. Is the Democratic field already filled by one? Here, in the first month of 2015, to talk about 2016 is NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: We literally can't get to everyone, but let's begin with Mitt Romney. He memorably said last year - I'm going to quote - "no, no, no, no, no, no" to the idea of running again. What may have changed his mind?

ELVING: Romney changed his mind about 2016 because of 2014. And he hopes that will help other Republicans forget about 2012. You know, Romney's been crisscrossing the country for other Republican candidates all this past year, and it felt pretty good to him. Those candidates did very well in November.

And Romney looks around, and he sees no great alternatives to Jeb Bush. And he's just not convinced that Jeb Bush can win the nomination and sell the country on another president named Bush. Of course, his own problem is selling other Republicans on another dance with a guy named Romney.

SIMON: Rand Paul is jetting around everywhere. How does he take advantage of the national network of support, particularly money that his father Ron Paul built up, while departing from his father on some national security issues? His father essentially blamed the policies of the French government for the murders in Paris.

ELVING: That's right. Rand Paul inherits a tremendous base from his father Ron Paul, but also that ceiling that you're referring to, which is largely foreign policy. Ron Paul always had great buzz. He really did. And he had some fundraising and disappointing vote totals. His persona was never enough to really attract people. And Rand Paul brings a kind of youthful freshness to libertarianism that his father never did.

SIMON: Jeb Bush resigned from more corporate boards recently than most of us have chopping boards in our kitchen. Is there a chance he won't run for president now?

ELVING: Not anymore. He's cleared his decks. As you mentioned, he's gotten a lot of financial stuff out of the way, old emails from his time in public office. The fundraising operations he's created are a clear sign, also, the team he's assembling, the social media presence. Four years ago, he said he had family issues that kept him from running. And now perhaps he feels he's resolved those. But whether he has or not, he is running.

SIMON: A question I wouldn't have projected even a few weeks ago - is there any more room for Chris Christie? And should he have stayed home and watched that Cowboys-Lions game?

ELVING: (Laughter) You're referring to the much-viewed man-hug with Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones - big YouTube story. What was the last big story about Chris Christie that actually helped him? You can say that he did a good job running the Republican Governors Association last year, and he did.

But last year in New Jersey was largely tale of woe for Chris Christie. And the bridge closure blow up is still not entirely resolved and behind him. The New Jersey economy has trailed the national recovery. There was a poll out this week by Fairleigh Dickinson University saying only one New Jerseyan in five thinks that the Chris Christie years have been good for the average citizen there.

SIMON: If Hillary Clinton is a prohibitive favorite on the Democratic side, why are they practically lined up on the Republican side to run against her?

ELVING: Because Republicans believe that Hillary Clinton will be an exceptionally vulnerable candidate, even as safe as she is in her own party. She's going to have to answer for every dollar the Clintons have ever raised, earned or spent because all the opposition research the Republican Party can mount is going to be focused on her. There's already a team working in Little Rock, Arkansas.

But look, Elizabeth Warren seems to have finally convinced most of the media she means it when she says she's really not running, and no other big-name Democrat has really shown much of an inclination to challenge the Clinton machine. And right now, the Clintons are locking up some of the operatives who beat them in 2008, so Hillary's candidacy looks inevitable, and her nomination looks highly probable.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.