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
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
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.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT