- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2014

The 2016 Democratic presidential field is likely to run to the left of President Obama, partly because candidates will try to distance themselves from his political baggage while jockeying for an increasingly liberal base of voters, analysts predict.

Prospective candidates and their surrogates insist it’s too early to tell what kind of standing Mr. Obama will have with voters and whether he will be seen as damaged goods the way President Bush was for Republicans in 2008.

But discontent is brewing within the Democratic Party over what some see as Mr. Obama’s concessions to Republicans.

Those Democratic voters will be looking for candidates willing to slide further to the left, especially on economic issues.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the next Democratic candidate is likely to be more populist than Obama has been. I think you might see [Hillary Rodham Clinton] move in that direction. I think you might see any major challenger to her move in that direction,” said Mike Lux, co-founder and CEO of the consulting firm Progressive Strategies who has worked on five presidential campaigns. “I think you will see that rumbling under the surface, that a Democrat is going to need to run a more populist campaign. I don’t think it will be an open, outright distancing from Obama, but just a much more populist version” of the Obama approach.

Just how different the candidates can be, however, isn’t clear.

Team Obama

For Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is in the middle of his second term as Mr. Obama’s right-hand man, it will be virtually impossible for the candidates to completely separate from the current administration and its policy successes and failures.

For Mr. Biden, the burden will be the health care reform law and other domestic policies. Indeed, he has been a chief cheerleader for many of those initiatives, including shepherding the 2009 stimulus package.

But Mr. Biden sees opportunities as well, particularly in parts of the country that are more receptive to his blue-collar credentials.

“There’s some places where I can go in and the president can’t,” he said in an interview with CNN that aired Friday.

For Mrs. Clinton, foreign policy wins and losses — along with the politically volatile 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya — will keep her closely tied to Mr. Obama, for better or worse.

Other potential candidates, such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, will have an easier time choosing which parts of the Obama legacy to embrace. Mr. O’Malley and other Democratic governors also may have significant credibility with the party faithful because of their efforts to implement Obamacare at the state level.

Still, Samuel L. Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said the president’s image and reputation will bleed over.

“It’s going to be very much like it always is. Like it or not, you’re the third term,” said Mr. Popkin, who served as a consultant to the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns, among others. “No [Democratic] candidate can run against Obama. The question is, how do you clarify the ways you’ll be the next step. This is the intellectual problem for them, how they explain their step forward. What comes next?”

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