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How the Midterms Will Set the Table for 2016

How the Midterms Will Set the Table for 2016

By Scott Conroy - November 3, 2014

For Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Tuesday's stakes are about as high as they come. 

If he wins his re-election fight against Democrat Mary Burke, Walker not only will earn a second term in Madison. He’ll acquire a coveted slot as a top-tier contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, if he decides to pursue it. 

But if Walker loses, not only will he be out of a job -- his status as a serious prospect for the nation’s highest office will evaporate overnight.  

With Walker holding on to a slim two-percentage-point lead over Burke in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls, neither outcome would be particularly surprising.  

And that’s just one reason why anyone curious about the early jockeying for 2016 should pay close attention to what happens on Tuesday.  

After all, the next campaign for president begins on Wednesday.  

Walker’s fate is merely the most glaring 2016-related question that will be answered on Election Day 2014, as the results of the midterms could have a profound effect on the contours of the next race for the White House.  

On the Republican side, in particular, several likely presidential hopefuls have campaigned aggressively for GOP candidates in tight races around the country, hoping to collect chits while also boosting their party’s electoral hopes.  

Now they will learn the extent to which their efforts paid off.

*** 

Two midterm races also considered central to the 2016 landscape have been closely contested Senate battles in the presidential kickoff states of Iowa and New Hampshire.  

If Republican Joni Ernst defeats Democrat Bruce Braley to become Iowa’s first female senator, among the out-of-state pols she will have to thank for bolstering her campaign are Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry and several others who have their eye on a possible White House run.    

And if Scott Brown is able to come from behind to defeat incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in the Granite State, Chris Christie can expect a thank-you note, too.  

Not only did the New Jersey governor lend some star power to Brown’s uphill campaign effort, he also dispatched two of his former aides to New Hampshire as part of a concerted effort to reap GOP gains in the state vital to his 2016 hopes.  

In addition, Christie’s role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association lent him the capacity to campaign extensively in critical governor races around the country, dispensing tens of millions of dollars to grateful GOP candidates in the process.  

On Thursday, Christie began a five-day, 19-state marathon of events around the nation --a test run for the kind of grueling national schedule he would have to carry out as presidential candidate.   

In a situation rife with 2016 intrigue, it was Christie’s visit to Wisconsin on Friday that drew the most scrutiny of all his visits.

Earlier in the week, Walker complained to reporters about the relatively meager spending that outside groups have contributed to his campaign, adding for good measure his assessment that Christie was only visiting Wisconsin because “he asked if he could come and we weren’t going to say no.” 

Walker subsequently sought to clarify that he had not intended to criticize the RGA. Nonetheless, the perception that Christie had not been overly enthusiastic about throwing a political life line to a potential 2016 rival in duress had already become a topic of discussion in conservative circles.  

If Walker loses, Christie’s path to the Republican nomination might be made easier, but it may also come at the expense of some lost goodwill.

***

It is rare that statehouse races have immediate and glaring impacts on presidential politics, but such is the case in Kentucky where Rand Paul will be watching closely as the local returns come in Tuesday night.  

Under current Kentucky law, Paul -- who is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016 -- would not be able to run simultaneously to keep his seat and for the presidency.  

The ambitious lawmaker’s allies in the Republican-controlled Kentucky Senate have already drafted a bill that would change that statute and allow him to run for both offices, but Paul needs the Kentucky House to flip from Democratic to Republican control if he wants that legislation to be passed.

And he has made it abundantly clear that he does.  

Over the last few months, Paul has campaigned and raised money on behalf of Kentucky House candidate, in the hopes that the chamber will flip.  

***

On the Democratic side of the 2016 equation, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been by far the most active campaign surrogate among the possible presidential contenders, making frequent trips to the early voting states and elsewhere around the nation as he winds down his eight-year tenure in Annapolis.  

If a few Democrats pull out narrow victories in states where O’Malley helped out, he could find himself in a position to ask for a returned favor down the line.  

But given the nature of the 2016 campaign narrative, all eyes will be on Hillary Clinton, who twice visited Iowa during this campaign cycle before headlining a large rally with Shaheen in Nashua, N.H., on Sunday.  

In becoming an active surrogate during the midterm campaign’s final weeks, Clinton has had opportunity to test-drive a few potential messages that could become central to her widely anticipated 2016 run.  

One outcome that Clinton and all of her potential Republican foes will be paying particularly close attention to is the tight Florida governor’s race between incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott and Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.  

In a presidential race, it always helps to have as many members of your own party as possible in governor’s offices around the nation -- particularly in the swing state that offers more electoral votes than any other.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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