Back in 2006 I was a candidate for a seat on the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees. One of the people who supported and made a donation to my campaign asked me if I was running as the change or the establishment candidate. It was a rhetorical question, that he wanted me to answer later.
My opponent, who was the incumbent, was that establishment candidate. The problem was, he and I agreed on virtually every issue. The difference was our priorities and approach to working on those issues. I believe this was one of the reasons I didn't win the election. Since I was not a change candidate that offered a different vision of the Alamo Colleges, my own ability to stay passionate and committed to running often wavered. After the election my opponent would introduce me to other board members and encourage me to attend and speak up at meetings as a citizen to be heard.
This story about myself leads me to this; in the fall of 2003, a friend asked me to pick who'd be the next president. Early opinion and polls showed a toss up between Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Realizing that voters would be inclined to support a change candidate after 8 years of Bush (and 8 years of Clinton) and that the nation was in an economic recession, I said Sen. Barack Obama would become president if he decided to run.
I would also note that I believed that Governor Tim Pawlenty would offer the best choice for the GOP in 2012 as a change candidate against President Obama, by now the establishment candidate. Pawlenty dropped out early after a miserably showing at the Iowa GOP straw polls. A move he later regretted. I would argue that this played the largest part in Gov. Mitt Romney becoming the nominee and Pres. Obama being able to shed the establishment label and run again as a change candidate. Romney essentially serving as a continued surrogate, like McCain, as part of the establishment of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. I believe if he stayed in the race Pawlenty would have been a stronger opponent that Romney. Even in defeat Pawlenty, more than Sen. Rick Santorum, would have pushed Romney to establish his identity early as a change candidate.
It is too early to pick nominees for 2016, however, at this point it's Secretary Clinton's election to lose. She is in a unique position being part of the old guard establishment in Washington on one hand, but being a change candidate in contrast to both Obama and Speaker John Boehner the leader of the Republican Party. However, especially if Clinton runs, the story to pay attention to will be this one...
Sen. Bernie Sanders, as an independent running for President. Sanders has said he would put serious thought in running for president if there is no strong run by a liberal Democrat in the primaries. So far, aside from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I don't see any Paul Wellstone-esque Democrats considering a serious run for president. Warren supporters have suggested she may run, but I doubt she will because of the success she's had as a senator. She may find that she will, and has, done more good in Congress.
If this happens and Clinton runs and is essentially anointed as the Democrats nominee, I expect Sanders to run for president. As and independent and the only elected Socialist in Washington, he is not only a change candidate to the establishment of Obama/Bush/Clinton, but represents a unique contrast from the possibility of Tea Party candidate coming from the GOP. Any Tea Party candidate would try to run as a change candidate. A Sanders campaign as a Socialist and an independent would make both Clinton and whoever is the GOP nominee, establishment candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders would also be a positively contrast to the change offered by GOP should they nominate a Tea Party supported candidate. That could very well marginalize the GOP and turn it into a race between Sanders and Clinton.
I'm certain many of you will disagree with this early assessment but, looking back at 2008 and 2012 I think I have a better than average track record on this one. Also if you're wondering who I think the Republican frontrunner is for the nomination in 2016, it's not going to be Gov. Chris Christie or any other governor or former governor. As with 2012, the GOP primaries will be large, brutal, and trend further to the right than it normally would. Right now, look for a senator, most likely Rand Paul.