The 2016 presidential election is 14 months away, but candidates are already drawing battle lines.
Among many doubts, there is one certainty: Barack Obama will be leaving the White House at the end of his second term, barred by the Constitution from a third.
Influenced by the Tea Party and Christian evangelists, conservative Republicans (GOP) are moving to the right, opposing more liberal Democrats including Obama on almost every issue.
The Democratic Party’s front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is facing a challenge from socialist Bernie Sanders, who is pulling her to the left.
The candidates — so far
Five Democrats have declared, but Clinton has a big lead in polls. Wife of former President Bill Clinton, Clinton has amassed a formidable financial war chest that eclipses those of her competitors, including Sanders, who is a senator from Vermont, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, is considering running but has not announced his candidacy.
Seventeen Republicans are crowding the field on the right. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush — son of ex-President George H. W. Bush and brother of George W. Bush — has name recognition. But brash billionnaire Donald Trump has dominated media coverage and the polls.
Other notable Republican candidates include neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Senator Mario Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina — the only woman on the GOP side.
Clinton leads potential Republican challengers in many early polls, considered unreliable predictors at this stage.
Budget: Many Republicans would add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to cap the public deficit. Democrats are not as worried about the deficit and generally oppose social spending cuts. They are more willing to consider tax increases, anathema to Republicans.
Immigration: Republicans are generally advocating a tougher line on immigrants, particularly from Latin America. Trump has called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has said he would track foreign visitors like FedEx packages.
Democratic candidates support allowing a greater number of undocumented immigrants obtain citizenship.
Climate change: Most Republican candidates say it is not clear humans have caused climate change, and they oppose measures that would burden businesses. The Democrats seek to curb carbon emissions and end fossil fuel subsidies.
Health care: All Republican candidates support repealing Obama’s signature health care law in favor of more market-oriented alternatives. The Democrats support the Affordable Care Act.
Gun control: A long string of mass shootings has re-ignited a debate over guns. Democrats support banning the sale of assault weapons and favor stricter background checks. Republicans generally oppose tighter controls, arguing the right to bear firearms is protected by the Constitution.
A nuclear deal with Iran is the biggest current issue and will be taken up soon by Congress. Republican candidates say the agreement would embolden Iran and make the Middle East less safe. The Democrats support the deal, which was negotiated by the Obama Administration and 6 other countries including Iran.
While Obama has the votes in Congress to sustain his eventual veto of a motion against the accord, the issue will likely feature in the election.
Republicans say Obama’s policies have facilitated the rise of Islamic State militants and weakened U.S. global influence. Several Republicans have advocated greater U.S. military involvement in Syria and Iraq.
China‘s rise as an economic and military power is a major theme, with Republicans favoring a more muscular U.S. stance towards Beijing.
Republicans support tougher policies against Russia, arguing President Vladimir Putin needs to face a more determined United States.
The second debate between Republican candidates is set for September 16.
Both major parties will hold state primaries starting in February 2016 and running until June.
Looming on the horizon is March 1, or “Super Tuesday,” when the greatest number of primaries are held and weaker candidates will fall by the wayside.
The election is set for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
(By Pauline Bock)