- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2015

Heavy hitters from both parties leapt into the presidential pool last week, putting pressure on lesser-known contenders on both sides to quit testing the waters and make their intentions known.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said there is a “91 percent” chance that he will seek the Republican nomination, once he gets a campaign apparatus in place.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said he can make a serious bid for the Democratic nod by highlighting income inequality and a tax code that favors the rich.

“It’s not a question of running against Hillary Clinton or taking on Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Sanders told “Fox News Sunday,” a nod to the primary-race headwinds he would face from the Democratic front-runner.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would be a formidable Democratic alternative to Mrs. Clinton as well, citing his seven years as Baltimore mayor and eight years at the helm in Annapolis. He said he will make up his mind about a run by the end of May.

“I think it would be an extreme poverty indeed if there weren’t more than one person willing to compete for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, said he is weighing his options, “traveling aggressively” and weighing what is right for his family.

“All my options are on the table here,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The lesser-known contenders would join a growing field of declared candidates. Three Republican senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — have committed themselves to their party’s primary race.

Mrs. Clinton announced her long-awaited Democratic bid a week ago before driving straight to Iowa, the first-in-the-nation contest state where her 2008 campaign stumbled.

One by one, Republican candidates unloaded on Mrs. Clinton during a cattle call in New Hampshire over the weekend. They mocked her “Scooby Doo” van trip to Iowa last week and said she has enough baggage in her career to fill a second campaign plane.

Mr. Rubio said Mrs. Clinton is a relic of old Washington who has refused to distinguish herself from President Obama. He also blamed the former secretary of state for the failed diplomatic “reset” with Russia and the response to the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

Others have rushed to her defense.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, offered full-on support Sunday for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid and took a few shots at her potential Republican rivals.

She said the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state may not deserve a Democratic “coronation” but is clearly the most qualified to take the White House.

“This is not a hard choice, and I don’t think it will be a hard choice for America,” she told ABC’s “This Week.”

Some contenders for the Democratic crown disagree.

“I would not run unless I thought we could win,” Mr. Sanders told Fox News. “I think there is a lot of discontent out there on the part of ordinary people who feel the system is grossly stacked against them.”

Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and describes himself as a socialist, said there has been a “massive transfer” of wealth from the middle class to “the top tenth of 1 percent” of Americans. He said it is time for the super-rich to pay “their fair share of taxes” and to end the “abomination” in which corporations stash their cash in the Cayman Islands or other tax shelters.

Although he believes in a strong military, he said, it should trim waste and fraud to keep its budgets in check.

Mr. O'Malley boasted that he led Maryland through the recession with “results that actually mattered,” including the highest median income of any state in the country.

On the Republican side, Mr. Graham said he is a problem-solver who has a lot to offer in the presidential race, although he has “got to put the means together.”

“I think I’ve got a good message,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think I’ve done more right than wrong on foreign policy.”

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