California businesswoman Carly Fiorina, retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee come from very different backgrounds, but they all have at least one thing in common: They’re all launching presidential campaigns this week.
While all three Republican candidates are considered relative long shots for the nomination, they’re each still relevant as far as 2016 goes, for a variety of reasons. Even if they don’t win, any one could play a major role in determining which candidate does prevail and what that person's platform looks like.
Mike Huckabee. As a two-term governor and former presidential contender, Huckabee’s political resume is as strong on paper as anyone in the field. He came out of nowhere to win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 after a clever ad with Chuck Norris and was the last man standing against eventual nominee John McCain. After his loss, he jumped to television as a weekend host on Fox News before leaving to run again this year. His announcement is set for Tuesday.
Just as in 2008, Huckabee’s strength lies in his popularity with the party’s evangelical wing. He’s a former Baptist preacher, invokes his faith regularly on the trail, and relishes a good culture war fight, whether it’s over contraception or rap music. Polls show Huckabee is well known and well liked among GOP voters, but his main challenge will be finding votes outside his Christian, conservative, and mostly southern base.
If history repeats and Huckabee primarily draws in born-again voters in Iowa and the South, he’ll still have a major impact on the race by denying them to candidates competing for the same support. This year there are a lot of them: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is openly staking his candidacy on the religious right, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is counting on his son-of-a-preacher roots to fire them up as well, and others could plausibly follow their lead. By splitting up the vote, Huckabee and his rivals could give Jeb Bush or whoever emerges as the establishment frontrunner a clear path to the nomination with more moderate voters.
Carly Fiorina. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s presidential run is her second attempt political office and the first one, a 2010 senate run in California, did not go well despite a national Republican wave that year. It’s best known for producing one of the most memorable, meme-able politics ads of the decade in Fiorina’s “Demon Sheep.”
So why does a failed senate candidate and executive with a spotty business record matter so much in 2016? She’s the only woman running on the GOP side, which gives her a unique role in the campaign as the party’s Hillary-Clinton-basher-in-chief. Fiorina is so committed to this role that her announcement video on Monday opened with footage of Clinton’s announcement video.
Her speeches are more densely packed with anti-Clinton zingers than any other candidate and she’s been a hit at conservative gatherings for months despite her relative obscurity within the party. Her signature line: “Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe but unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity not an accomplishment.” It’s the kind of cutting attack that might come off as condescending from a male candidate, but that Republicans hope Fiorina will be able to pull off regularly from the debate stage.
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Ben Carson. Before 2013, Carson was best known as a celebrated surgeon, author, and advocate who split time between medicine and speaking to inner city students about studying their way out of poverty. Then he dressed down President Obama with a combative speech at the otherwise nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 and everything changed.
Over the last two years leading up to his presidential kickoff in Detroit on Monday, Carson has earned a tea party following as a regular on the conservative speaking circuit. While his inspiring life story plays well in speeches, it’s his inflammatory rhetoric that’s become his calling card. Among his greatest hits: calling Obamacare the worst thing “since slavery” and likening the government to Nazi Germany. And don’t get him started on gay rights.
If there’s one thing we learned from the 2012 cycle, it’s that an outsider candidate with no filter and a strong grassroots following in tea party circles can prove shockingly relevant in the right circumstances. If Carson catches fire, he could suck oxygen away from more credible conservative candidates or force the field to grapple with some of his more divisive comments on the debate stage, a situation that some candidates have struggled with lately.