GOP’s big night fuels shift toward 2016

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, November 5, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas — And so it begins.

Even before the polls had closed on Election Day, Republicans had shifted their focus to 2016 and the party’s top target: Hillary Rodham Clinton. And by the end of the night, the GOP had claimed victories in Senate contests and governor races that will serve as a White House launch pad for the party’s most ambitious.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has acknowledged presidential aspirations, won his third election in four years, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder earned second terms amidst White House whispers of their own.

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The governors and their Senate allies won with the backing of high-profile Republicans thinking about the next election: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Speaking Wednesday, Christie said the Republican victories in governor’s race across the country show that voters want leaders who will “get things done,” rather than focus on ideology. He said the Republican rout was also fueled by an unpopular President Barack Obama.

“It’s a reflection of the president’s lack of leadership, his lack of leadership abroad, his lack of leadership at home,” Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said. Christie made the rounds on the morning news shows, including NBC, ABC and Fox.

Rand Paul offered an analysis that pointed firmly to the next election.

“Tonight was really a referendum not only on the president’s policies, but really a referendum on Hillary Clinton,” Paul said in an interview with The Associated Press. The Democrats’ midterm struggles, he said, represent “an epic failure of the Clintons.”

Paul is among several leading Republicans who have spent months laying the groundwork for presidential campaigns, often while also helping GOP colleagues campaign in the midterms. But in the crowded Republican field, party insiders believe as many as three candidates may form presidential exploratory committees by the end of January — with several more joining them in the subsequent months.

“They’re going to need to get out there quickly,” said Republican National Committee chief of staff Mike Shields, predicting a rash of presidential activity in November, December and January as candidates compete for the same pool of staff and donors. The RNC, he said, already has eight to 10 staffers focused exclusively on weakening Clinton’s potential candidacy.

The overwhelming Democratic frontrunner should she run, Clinton is expected to announce her decision around the end of the year. The former secretary of state did not appear publicly Tuesday, but spent recent weeks campaigning extensively for Democrats in competitive races for Senate and governor, appearing at 45 political events during a two-month run through 19 states.