Pre-Debate Presidential Candidate Power Rankings


With the second Republican candidate debate occurring tonight, I thought it might be fun to put out an informal ‘power ranking’ of the candidates I think have a strong chance of breaking through to become the eventual nominee of the party.

Rankings are Not Just About Polls

There are plenty of polls that tell us voters general preference is currently Donald Trump. But polls do not tell the whole story. Four years ago at this point in the election cycle, Rick Perry held 32 percent of the vote. This time around, Rick Perry is the first candidate to exit the race.

These rankings are based on a candidate’s message, experience, infrastructure, and ability to turn out voters to the primaries. For many grassroots voters, that means this will result in a result that they don’t necessarily like.

For example, Ben Carson. I personally like Ben Carson quite a bit, but I don’t trust him to hold a steady place in the polls for more than a month or two. Sure, he’s smart (really smart), but during the first debate he looked dry and dull compared to more polished candidates. Candidates like Carson have wilted in the past when the spotlight shines.

Finally, these are not my personal preferences. These are my rankings based on who I think has the best shot of winning the nomination at this early stage.

So with no further delay, here are my rankings for the current 2016 Presidential candidates.

Power Rankings – September 16th, 2015

1. Donald Trump

He leads in the polls, although that isn’t why I’m ranking him #1. I like his ability to withstand controversy. I also believe his business experience will help him establish a strong infrastructure to turn out the necessary vote (plus, his base is feverish for him)

2. Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz is in great position right now to win the nomination. Although he isn’t dominating in the polls (he’s at just 6.7%), his anti-establishment message combined with his actual government experience is a great mix for the current electorate. Look for Cruz to win some early states and gain momentum.

3. Jeb Bush

I hate putting Bush here given his lackluster debate performance, his stiff interview with Steven Colbert, and tanking poll numbers. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the current Republican leadership that loves Jeb Bush. Plus, he’s got a ton of cash to spend.

4. Rand Paul

Rand Paul isn’t polling as well as other candidates (just 2.7%), but he has the existing infrastructure of libertarians that his father built over several primaries and caucuses. He also has a bone fide outsider status as a libertarian.

5. Scott Walker

It is hard to rank Scott Walker this high in the rankings, but the fact is that he’s a governor, he’s won a lot of very tough campaigns, he’s fought the toughest unions, and he’s won. His campaign has been uninspired so far, so that’ll need to change, but there is still a lot of time for him to run on an impressive record.

6. Ben Carson

I suspect I am underestimating Ben Carson, but his current rise in the polls feels like your typical “let’s try this one out” rise. There is no doubt that he is likeable and intelligent, but he lacks charisma. With the current attention on his campaign, I would expect a stumble at some point. Oddly enough, that stumble may be an inability to do anything worthy of catching people’s attention.

7. Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is smooth. Really smooth. His hair is perfect, his complexion is clean, and every answer he gives seems convincing. Unfortunately, he feels like a politician, willing to say just about anything to win a vote. Plus, his inability to manage his own personal finances could become a liability.

8. Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina has come a long way since she announced her candidacy, although she’s a long way from being able to secure it. Carly holds a position as an outsider with a strong business platform. Of all the candidates so far, Carly has been the most disciplined, yet the most aggressive with strong responses to any attack. But Carly’s questionable business past are sure to catch up with her at some point.

9. John Kasich

In just about any other election year, John Kasich would be a stronger candidate. As a former governor of Ohio, Kasich could potentially deliver a huge bellwether state (it helps that he’s leading in the polls in Ohio as well). But Kasich is a centrist, and in this election cycle, establishement centrists just aren’t gaining any traction.

10. Chris Christie

Can you imagine how upset Chris Christie is at Donald Trump? People were supposed to fall in love with the big-mouthed, tell-it-like-it-is conservative from New Jersey, not the big-mouthed, tell-it-like-it-is from New York. Chris Christie still has great stage presence. He could hang around for a while.

11. Mike Huckabee

Would you believe that Mike Huckabee is currently 6th in the polls at 4.3%? Many of our top 10 would love to have his support. But Huckabee’s support comes mainly from loyalists, not new voters. He’ll have a hard time winning new voters.

12. Bobby Jindal

Jindal should be polling higher than he is, but his campaign is terribly disorganized (or lean, as his campaign spins). While a lean campaign is good, he needs to get active if he wants to actually run for President. Taking a bold stance against the front runner was a nice way to gain some press, but he needs to do more to keep his name in the papers (and it looks like he’s trying).

13 & 14. Rick Santorum and Linsey Graham

Ranking these last two is really quite a tossup. Neither will win the nomination. Both are in the campaign just to have a voice and an audience. But frankly, it’s not working. Expect Graham to be out by December. Santorum will probably stick around for a month or two longer.


So there it is, a pre-debate power ranking of current candidates. Go ahead an rip this apart and tell me why I’m wrong.

Mark Philips is the general editor for

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