5.) Paul Ryan – As Romney’s running mate this cycle, the House Budget chairman is automatically a top contender for 2016. Ryan remains an intellectual leader in the Republican Party and many conservatives were far more excited with him as the VP candidate than Romney as the presidential candidate.
6.) Sarah Palin – It’s hard to come up with a case for her, but she still has supporters and is still pretty young. The 2008 GOP VP nominee could conceivably run, but it’s easier to see her feinting a run to remain relevant (cue the nasty emails).
7.) Bobby Jindal – It is difficult to believe that Jindal is just 41 considering all he’s done. Before being elected governor of Louisiana at 36 in 2008, Jindal served as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (at 24), president of the University of Louisiana System (at 28), an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services during George W. Bush’s presidency and a U.S. congressman. Oh yea, he was also a Rhodes Scholar who turned down offers to attend Yale Law School and Harvard Medical School. That’s quite a resume, though some suggest a poorly performed national Republican response to President Obama’s first address to Congress in 2009 is disqualifying. But that one speech is unlikely to damn his candidacy. Jindal will be completing his second term as governor as the Republican primary heats up.
8.) Rick Santorum – Rising from the back of the GOP field, Santorum surged to the front to become the final alternative to Mitt Romney during the Republican primary. Though lacking Romney’s resources, Santorum mounted a real challenge to Romney and for a brief moment it looked like he actually had an outside shot at upsetting him to win the Republican nomination. Ultimately he fell short, but he built a loyal following in the process and those who saw him engage constituents at town halls in the early primary states came away impressed with his grasp of the issues. If he runs, Santorum will be taken more seriously at the beginning of the presidential primary contest next time than he was when he launched his 2012 campaign.
9.) Mike Huckabee – Huckabee had a strong showing in 2008 but opted not to run in 2012. Now with a Fox News show, he may decide he doesn’t want to get back into elective politics. But Huckabee has a following and is a great communicator, especially of social conservatism, and should he choose to run, he could be a contender. As we get closer to candidates making decisions, you may want to watch Huckabee’s weight to see where he’s leaning.