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 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT