Pitkin Dems, GOP weigh in on presidential hopefuls | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin Dems, GOP weigh in on presidential hopefuls

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

With the 2016 presidential election some 15 months away, it’s that time of campaign season when speculation and scenario-setting abound.

Will Donald Trump stay with the GOP or go rogue with a third party? Is Bernie Sanders really a viable candidate or just campaigning in the shadow of Hillary Clinton? What’s Joe Biden going to do? And is all of this white noise simply a build-up to what many political pundits see as a Jeb Bush-Clinton showdown in November 2016?

Pitkin County certainly will play a role, at least from a fundraising standpoint, in the contest. Already, Republican candidates Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina have made private stops to raise funds for their warchests, said Frieda Wallison, chair of the Pitkin County Republican Party. And Clinton made a quick shake-down visit at the home of Soledad and Robert Hurst earlier this month.

In the 2012 campaign for the Oval Office, the GOP’s Mitt Romney was the top fundraiser in the Aspen area, raking in $1.35 million during his campaign, according to Open Secrets.org. President Barack Obama was next with $865,383, while a number of other candidates — among them Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Perry and Rick Santorum — collected five-figure sums.

Although Romney raised the most money in Pitkin County, Obama easily defeated him at the left-leaning county’s polls, drawing 6,849 votes, or 68 percent, of the electorate. Romney had 3,204 votes, or 30 percent, in Pitkin County.

For the time being, the chairs of Pitkin County’s Democratic and Republican parties are mum when it comes to whom they’re supporting. Not until the parties hold their caucuses next year can they publicly endorse any candidate.

But they’re closely following the daily developments of what’s been an intriguing and entertaining presidential race so far.

“I suspect there will be a diversity of views on which candidates to support,” Wallison said. “It’s really, in my view, way too early as an individual to try and figure this out.”

The GOP so far has 17 hopefuls officially vying for their party’s nomination, which Wallison said she sees as a good thing.

“My takeaway is that there are several very good candidates, and I’m glad to see that the field is broad at this point,” she said.

It’s indisputable that the one candidate making the biggest splash so far is billionaire businessman Donald Trump, whose loose-lipped candor has worried many Republicans. But he’s also shown to be a formidable candidate because he’s leading in the polls. But will it last?

“I think Trump is someone who is a phenomenon that may not last,” Wallison said. “And I think when you have such a large field, someone who is getting 20 or 25 percent from the polls may seem impressive, but on the other hand that means 75 to 80 percent of the potential voters are not favoring that candidate.”

The greater concern of Republicans is that Trump splits from their party and joins a third one.

“It wouldn’t be helpful to the Republican Party,” Wallison said.

Howard Wallach, chairman of the Pitkin County Democrats, wasn’t ready to make public his wishes about Trump. But it’s been widely held that Trump joining a third party can only help the Democrats, similar to when Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate in 1992, siphoning away potential votes from incumbent President George H.W. Bush and propelling Bill Clinton to the Oval Office.

“Right now it’s for them to decide on how they want to go forward,” Wallach said. “Obviously, Trump is a problem for the rest of the party.”

On the Democrats’ side, the field is much smaller, with five candidates who officially have entered the race. But the lion’s share of attention has gone to Clinton as well as the more liberal Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont.

“I think Bernie has invigorated primary voters in the Democratic Party,” Wallach said. “And he’s got them really excited, and I think Hillary is doing a good job of covering the things he’s covering.”

Wallach said the challenge by Sanders is good for the Clinton campaign.

“At the moment, I think yes, it gives her something to do, to watch him, cover him, cover his moves,” Wallach said. “I think it helps her to be vibrant, and there’s no deep animosity between them. These are all issues they’re talking about.”

Biden also could enter, but Wallach wasn’t ready to make a prediction on that.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Which basically sums up the race so far. The next 15 months should be interesting at the very least.

“Politics are fascinating to watch,” Wallach said.