The road to the 2016 general election is becoming more and more rocky as mounting numbers of members of the U.S. Congress announce their intentions to seek a life beyond Capitol Hill.
The latest retirement announcement came last week from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., the unabashed Tea Party movement advocate who tested the presidential waters in 2012 only to bow out after finishing last among Republican wannabes in the Iowa caucuses, narrowly won re-election in her remapped 6th Congressional District and whose presidential campaign faces ethics questions on spending.
Gone, too, are several veteran Senate Democrats, such as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana and Carl Levin of Michigan. Republicans are chomping for another chance to take over the upper chamber because of these and other retirement announcements in the Democratic ranks.
Thirty-three seats are up for re-election in 2014 in the Senate, where Democrats hold 53-45 edge over Republicans. The chamber's two Independents caucus with the Democrats.
The party is defending seven seats in states Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012, as well as open seats in Iowa and Michigan.
The math is simple: If the Democrats lose six seats, they kiss control of the Senate goodbye.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leads 233 Republicans and Nancy Pelosi of California heads the 201 Democrats. There is one vacancy. All seats are up every two years and the consensus is Republicans will retain control.
A president's coattails are notoriously short during the midterm elections of his second term. For 2014 President Obama's coattails will be bogged down by three major scandals: the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the IRS targeting of conservative organizations and the seizure of The Associated Press' phone records.
The scandals not only force Obama and administration officials to expend time and energy rebutting charges leveled by Republicans, but they also could create short-term consequences for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recruitment, Roll Call recently reported.
Democratic strategists say they so far haven't heard from potential candidates expressing concern about a deteriorating political environment or demonstrating greater hesitancy about running in the 2014 election cycle.
Candidate recruitment helps determine which states and districts are elevated to the top of the dance card in November 2014 and which races are relegated to the sidelines.
Among House races, one rematch is already generating a buzz -- Sarasota Springs Mayor Mia Love announced she will challenge Jim Matheson, Utah's lone Democrat in its congressional delegation. Matheson won a squeaker in 2012 against Love -- who snagged a top speaking spot at the Republican National Convention -- in one of the election's most targeted races.
In the Senate, Tea Party activists are pushing a familiar name -- 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. However, others in Washington say she may not be the best choice to challenge Mark Begich next year.
A recent poll shows Palin would lead the Republican field if she ran for Senate in Alaska, The Hill said. While Tea Party activists have a "Draft Sarah" campaign, Republican leaders in Washington seem less enthused.
Also, a Harper poll from earlier in this year indicated Begich led Palin 47 percent to 40 percent.
Palin might not even get an endorsement from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a race against Begich. Murkowski, who has feuded with Palin in the past, said the former Alaska governor is detached from the state. Palin stumped for Murkowski's challenger, Tea Party-backed Joe Miller, in Alaska's three-way general election race for Senate in 2010.
"I think there are a lot of outside interests that would like to see Sarah Palin in some form of elected office. Most in Alaska recognize our former governor is really not involved in or engaged in the state anymore, that she's moved to other interests," Murkowski told The Hill. "In order for you to represent the state of Alaska, you've got to be in the state."
Prognosticators already are looking beyond 2014, ginning up chatter in the 2016 general election.
U.S. business mogul Donald Trump has spent more than $1 million researching a potential run for president in 2016, the New York Post reported.
Sources told the Post Trump has been asked to speak at more Republican events, such as the Oakland County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in Novi, Mich., last week that drew a crowd of 2,300.
"Everybody tells me, 'Please run for president. Please run for president.' I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along," Trump, 66, reportedly told those who attended the GOP event. "I'd be happy if President Obama did a great job. I'm a Republican, but before anything, I love this country. I would love to see somebody come in who is going to be great."
Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump, told the Post $1 million was spent commissioning election research into Trump's standing in all states and gauge which states he would need to win.
"The electoral research was commissioned. We did not spend $1 million on this research for it just to sit on my bookshelf," Cohen said. "At this point Mr. Trump has not made any decision on a political run, but what I would say is that he is exactly what this country needs."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who endeared himself to conservatives when he and the GOP-led Legislature passed legislation that stripped collective bargaining rights for the state's public employees and survived a recall election because of it, has been drawing rave reviews on the party stump.
Beltway presidential chatter has focused on Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, but Walker's admirers say his record as a conservative champion, folksy Midwestern deportment and fundraising connections could make him a contender in 2016, The Hill reported recently.
"Gov. Walker has a lot going for him and he'd be a very appealing candidate in a state like Iowa for the caucuses," says Bob Vander Plaats, an influential conservative player in Iowa, where Walker recently spoke. "Not only is he right on a lot of issues, he's been very bold and courageous on his leadership on a lot of those issues. And being a neighbor to Iowa doesn't guarantee you success but it certainly doesn't hurt."
And it certainly doesn't hurt that Iowans get to state their preference first in the 2016 GOP primary sweepstakes.
"It might be ideal that he doesn't have the spotlight on him in terms of watching every move like we do with Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz," Craig Robinson, editor of TheIowaRepublican.com and a former state GOP political director, told The Hill. "It wouldn't concern me to not be the top name mentioned. Walker has that ability to reach out and let people in and that really plays well in Iowa."
Among Democrats, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is lending her name to a small-donor fundraising push for Ready for Hillary, a super-PAC launched to support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should she choose to seek the presidential nod in 2016. Clinton has said she's not interested in mounting another run at the presidency.
"I'm not just ready for Hillary -- I'm rarin' to get going on her campaign," Granholm said in a recent email. "This isn't just about electing the first woman President, or putting forward our strongest candidate to keep the Republicans from enacting their extreme social agenda. We all know who the best person is for this job in 2016, and we need to do everything in our power to put her into office."
Smart Politics, a non-partisan political news website founded by Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs' Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, reviewed major media outlet coverage and compiled lists of 2016 front-runners for the general election.
Clinton was far and away the early leader based on media speculation on the party's 2016 potential candidates, followed by Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The next most mentioned Democratic candidates in the 2016 field are Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Tied at seventh were Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Ten other Democratic state and federal officeholders were mentioned in the 11 media outlets Smart Politics studied for a four-month period.
Smart Politics examined the rankings of the 2016 Republican presidential field across a dozen media outlets for more than four months and found two of the 23 candidates named appear on every list: Florida's Rubio New Jersey's Chris Christie.
Rounding out the top 10 are Wisconsin Congressman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, 2012 presidential hopeful and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Thirteen other prominent Republicans were listed in a third or fewer of the rankings of the dozen media outlets studied.
(By Nicole Debevec)