Sure the 2012 general election hasn’t even gotten underway yet, but everyone knows South Carolina politicos like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the presidential nominating process. Aspiring candidates know it too, which is why the state Democratic and Republican parties are each hosting speakers this spring who have been mentioned as possible contenders for the 2016 election.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will deliver the keynote address at state Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner on May 11, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will address the SCGOP’s annual Silver Elephant Dinner a week later.
Alex Goldstein, executive director of Gov. Patrick’s political action committee, said Patrick’s “core values of generational responsibility and conviction-based politics” have helped Massachusetts lead the nation in educational achievement and expanding access to health care.
As one of President Barack Obama’s top allies, Gov. Patrick is likely to focus much of his attention on election issues and his predecessor in Massachusetts, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. Patrick campaigned in South Carolina for Obama ahead of the 2008 primary, and is likely to play a large part in the 2012 presidential race as a Democratic comparison to Romney on issues like health care.
Sen. Rubio has not endorsed a candidate in the Republican primary, following South Carolina senator and tea party godfather Jim DeMint’s example by remaining technically neutral while giving strong hints toward Romney in the name of “party unity.” When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush finally endorsed Romney this week, he urged the GOP frontrunner to pick Rubio as his running mate.
“Sen. Rubio’s personal story, combined with his outstanding leadership in Washington, make him a perfect choice for the occasion,” commented SC GOP Chairman Chad Connelly. “Our nation needs his kind of leadership.”
Some political analysts believe Rubio’s recent support of a failed amendment that would have allowed employers to deny contraception coverage for their workers could hurt his chances of becoming the Republican running mate, while others argue that it provides just the kind of tea party red meat that the Republican electorate has craved throughout the primary. Regardless, if Rubio isn’t tapped for the Veepstakes this fall (or if he is and the GOP loses the election, which is looking increasingly likely), many expect him to explore a presidential bid of his own in 2016.
Gov. Patrick has also been mentioned as a possible presidential contender, coming in third in a 2011 poll asking New Hampshire Democrats who they’d support once President Obama leaves office one way or another. The Boston Herald has commented on Patrick’s possible 2016 aspirations, and his return to such an influential primary state as South Carolina will only increase such speculation.
“[Patrick] is the kind of governor who has relentlessly pursued better jobs, improved education and a better quality of life for his state,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing how he has accomplished so much in his state.”
Harpootlian added that he hopes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will attend as well, commenting that it would provide “a much-needed learning experience” for the governor.