Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

For 2016: Hillary Clinton's big lead; GOP's big zero

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
Sixty-five percent of Democrats and liberal independents favor Hillary Clinton for president.
Sixty-five percent of Democrats and liberal independents favor Hillary Clinton for president.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: A new CNN poll shows a reversal in the character of two major parties
  • Avlon: Traditionally, GOP coalesce around a front-runner; Democrats root for newcomers
  • Now, GOP has an eclectic pool of presidential candidates; Democrats have Hillary Clinton
  • Avlon: If Clinton does not run, Democrats will have almost no strong candidate

Editor's note: John Avlon, a CNN contributor and senior columnist and executive editor of The Daily Beast, is the author of "Independent Nation" and "Wingnuts." He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' award for best online column in 2012.

(CNN) -- A new CNN poll confirms that we're witnessing a quiet reversal in the character of our two major parties.

Traditionally, Republicans have always coalesced around the conventional wisdom front-runner for president. Conservatives respect structure, order and party brand names. Not for nothing was the name Nixon, Bush or Dole on the GOP presidential ticket from 1952 to 2004.

In contrast, Democrats have favored the presidential candidate with the hot hand, rising from obscurity to the White House -- think Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

John Avlon
John Avlon

But a fresh-out-of-the-oven CNN presidential poll shows a fractured GOP field of newcomers with no clear front-runner while the Democrats have given an unprecedented lead to a brand name of their own: Hillary Clinton.

Opinion: GOP strategy on shutdown courts doom

Yes, it is pathetically early to be projecting on the 2016 presidential campaign. Predictive capacity hovers somewhere near zero, and time fixated on polls would be productively used thinking about the 2014 midterms or the fights over the debt ceiling looming over our divided, dysfunctional Congress.

But as a snapshot of the underlying dynamics driving the two parties, this new poll is worth a look.

On the GOP side of the aisle, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie narrowly leads the fractured field at 17%, one point above Rep. Paul Ryan, best known as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate. In the old days, the previous vice presidential nominee would be the future favorite. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Ryan, who emerged from the 2012 presidential race arguably damaged by his association with the Romney campaign.

Traditionally, the governor of blue state New Jersey wouldn't be on the GOP radar at all, but Christie -- cruising to a landslide re-election -- seems to be the exception to this and other rules.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years:
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Clinton\'s political career Photos: Clinton's political career
Hillary Clinton speaks up on Syria
Christie: Boardwalk fire 'unthinkable'
Paul: Moral message leaves Assad in place

Next on the list is Rand Paul, the scion of an outsider libertarian movement sparked by his dad's multiple runs for president. But the compelling and controversial one-time eye doctor is a first-term senator from Kentucky, far from your typical presidential timber.

Perhaps most interesting is the second tier of GOP candidates. Jeb Bush seems settled in at 10%, despite brand name and legendary brand loyalty. Two Hispanic senate Republicans, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, come in next at 9% and 7% respectively. And then, at the bottom of the barrel, come two 2012 aspirants: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Far from being strengthened by their 2012 campaigns, these two candidates seem weakened by the experience. Rick Perry's "oops" heard round the world still resonates while Santorum's strident social conservatism doesn't seem to be taken seriously by 95% of the party faithful. Strange days.

Obama pressures conservative Republicans over possible shutdown

The real news is on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton has accumulated a towering 55 percentage point lead over her next closest competitor, Vice President Joe Biden, who is at 10% and doesn't exactly lack name recognition.

Below Biden are first-term Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 7%, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 6% and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley -- perhaps the most openly ambitious of the bunch -- at 2%.

Clinton's dominance illustrates an interesting dynamic. Six years ago, she was a far more polarizing figure among Democrats (and independents). Today, after her service as secretary of state, she seems more qualified and less polarizing, transcending her association with the culture of wars concurrent with Bubba's two terms in office.

Tough and experienced, Clinton is now positioned as a candidate who rivals Obama's 2007 surge. She will also be positioned as the candidate of the 51%, compelling to women of all ages and even possibly competitive among Republican women in this incarnation.

Uncle Joe Biden is well liked by the rank and file, but there doesn't seem to be much of a stampede to put him on the top of the ticket. Warren's strength comes from fascination with the new and represents the growing strength of the liberal base in the party. And while successful governors like Cuomo and O'Malley have earned the right to be taken seriously as presidential candidates, the party faithful don't seem to be much interested in buying what they are selling at the moment.

If Clinton does not run for some reason, Democrats will quickly wake up to the awkward fact that they have almost no depth of the bench after two Obama terms.

So there you have it: Democrats are behaving like Republicans, falling in line behind the big brand name dominating a race that is still three years away. And Republicans are behaving like Democrats, putting forward a fractured field with no clear front-runners but elevating a New Jersey governor, a Wisconsin congressman and a Kentucky senator to the front of the pack.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT