Jeb Bush is the unofficial Republican front-runner for the party's 2016 presidential nomination now that Mitt Romney has ruled out a third White House try, a Democrat strategist and a conservative policy analyst both told Newsmax TV
"I have to confess to being a little disappointed," David Goodfriend, a Democrat and former deputy staff secretary to President Bill Clinton, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner in reaction to what looks like the end of Romney's presidential ambitions.
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"Having Romney as a Republican standard-bearer would've been like swinging at a piñata because we could've said all day long, 'this is the wealthiest of the wealthy trying to tell you and the middle class what to do while you sit there and lose jobs and lose wages,'" said Goodfriend. "It would've been a beautiful thing."
With the former Massachusetts governor announcing on Friday that he won't run
again, attention turns to the rest of the potential GOP field
"It does bring some oxygen back into the GOP side of the race," Hadley Heath Manning, director of health policy at the conservative Independent Women's Forum, told Berliner.
Among the "clear winners" from Romney's exit, said Manning, "probably the biggest winner of all is Jeb Bush."
The former Florida governor "may be the leading establishment candidate now," she said, naming three sitting governors as added beneficiaries of the reshuffle caused by Romney: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Whoever runs and wins the parties' nominations, Manning and Goodfriend both said the biggest issue of 2016 might already be set.
"A lot of the questions in 2016 will be about middle-income families and about improving their lives," said Manning, "improving the take-home pay, and making sure that their salaries and their wages actually face inflation."
Said Goodfriend: "Republicans and Democrats both seem to be coalescing around this notion that the 2016 election will be about the middle class: upper mobility, wage stagnation and things that really hit the pocketbook of the American middle class."
As for who in the GOP is best-suited to address middle-class economics, Manning and Goodfriend both said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
could be a formidable candidate, with crossover appeal and the potential to attract Hispanic voters who might otherwise vote Democrat.
Goodfriend was less sold on Walker, the breakout star of last weekend's Iowa Freedom Summit
, whereas Manning said the two-term, recall-tested conservative Midwesterner rates a more serious look than he's gotten thus far.
"He is a fresh face on the national scene and someone who would be relatable," said Manning, describing Walker as "underrated" and credible on blue-collar, middle-class issues.
Among Democrats, most of the oxygen in the room still flows to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Goodfriend cautioned that Clinton, if she intends to run, should say so quickly.
"If Hillary Clinton is not careful, she's going to be defined by her opponents on the right, and that's extremely dangerous," said Goodfriend.
"And even though she's riding very high in public opinion polls right now, you can't count on that," he said. "That's not momentum. That's not message. That's just status quo. She needs to really treat this like a fight and get in earlier rather than later."
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