4 Dark Horse Republicans Who Could Run For President in 2016

ByMarshall Cohen

President Barack Obama’s second term is only six months underway, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about the 2016 presidential election. Here we break down the lesser-known potential Republican candidates. You can find our analysis of the lesser-known Democrats who might throw their hat in the presidential ring over here.

Beltway reporters track every move of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for hints of a presidential run. These politicians, plus other top-tier GOP hopefuls like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) command most of the media’s attention. But Republican primary voters have become increasingly unpredictable and there are a handful of possible candidates who are not so well-known but have plenty of potential. 

1. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Pundits have speculated for years about former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels running for president, but Pence, his successor, also makes for an interesting hopeful. The one-time talk radio host served 12 years in Congress and eventually became chairman of the House Republican Conference. His friendly relationship with the Tea Party helped him develop a base of supporters, many of whom have urged him to run for president in 2012. Instead, he ran for governor of Indiana and took office in January. His tenure has gone smoothly so far but he was forced to apologize last week when his staff deleted hundreds of pro-gay comments on his public Facebook page after the recent Supreme Court decisions. Pence could be a dark horse and gain big support on the stump in conservative states.

2. Former Ambassador John Bolton

It’s pretty clear that Bolton, the Yale-educated former ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, wants to run for president. Since leaving his UN post, Bolton has become a frequent guest on Fox News Channel, consistently criticizing the Obama administration. He launched his own super PAC earlier this year and is reportedly planning a tour of early primary states including Iowa and New Hampshire. Do voters know Bolton? Not really, polls say. But that gives him the chance to write his own narrative as a Reagan Republican who can unify the Grand Old Party ahead of 2016. 

3. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

Sandoval charted an impressive route to the Nevada governor’s mansion. He defeated an incumbent Republican governor in the primary and won comfortably in the same year Nevadans re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Republican Party is looking for new, young faces after its dismal 2012 performance among minorities, and Sandoval fits the bill: He is the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in Nevada and is only 49 years old. He has governed as a moderate, backing the Obamacare Medicaid expansion and signing a bill that gives undocumented immigrants driving privilege cards. But he also recently vetoed a gun background check bill, bolstering his conservative credentials. If Rubio doesn’t run for president in 2016, Sandoval will have the opportunity of a lifetime. 

4. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

Fallin is definitely a long-shot candidate, but she has been in the national spotlight since May after a rash of deadly tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma. Politicians on both sides of the aisle commended her leadership during the natural disaster. Fallin was elected in 2010 and is a staunchly conservative governor whose views would be popular in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. She is currently vice chair of the National Governors Association and was even considered for vice president by Mitt Romney in 2012. Her decision earlier this year to give a high-profile speech at Harvard University raised eyebrows, with some seeing it as an attempt to raise her national profile.