The “Why not me?” elec­tion

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This is shap­ing up as the “Why not me?” elec­tion.

As more can­di­dates de­clare for pres­i­dent -- three Repub­li­cans joined the fray just this week -- they en­cour­age the re­main­ing fence-sit­ters to take a run more se­ri­ously.

Look at John Ka­sich, now in his sec­ond term as gover­nor of Ohio af­ter serv­ing nine terms in Congress. His 23 years in fed­eral public of­fice are al­most as many as the six de­clared can­di­dates com­bined: for­mer high-tech ex­ec­u­tive Carly Fio­r­ina, re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son, for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee and three young sen­a­tors, Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio and Rand Paul.

Ka­sich has to wake up ev­ery morn­ing in the gover­nor’s man­sion of the na­tion’s most im­por­tant swing state and tell him­self: If they can run for pres­i­dent, I can, too.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina is clearly in­fected by the same virus. Af­ter 20 years in Congress, he’s a rec­og­nized ex­pert on mil­i­tary is­sues and has prob­a­bly vis­ited more coun­tries than his po­ten­tial ri­vals can even name. “Why not me?” is a ques­tion that comes eas­ily to his lips th­ese days.

That phrase, how­ever, only be­gins to ex­plain a bur­geon­ing Repub­li­can field that could even­tu­ally reach a dozen or more. The sec­ond fac­tor is frag­men­ta­tion.

Even mi­nor can­di­dates can imag­ine a twist­ing path to the nom­i­na­tion in such a crowded field. Sup­pose Ru­bio and Paul knock each other out. What if New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie emerges to chal­lenge Jeb Bush for the main­stream vote? Maybe Cruz and Huck­abee will fa­tally wound each other com­pet­ing for evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians in Iowa.

The Repub­li­can Party has a “roy­al­ist” tra­di­tion of nom­i­nat­ing the next in line. In the 14 elec­tions from 1952 through 2004, the party only once -- in 1964 -- nom­i­nated a ticket that did not in­clude some­one named Nixon, Dole or Bush. Even the last two nom­i­nees, John McCain and Mitt Rom­ney, were very much in the roy­al­ist mode.

Yes, there’s an­other Bush run­ning this year, the for­mer Florida gover­nor, and he leads the lat­est NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal poll with 23 per­cent of GOP pri­mary vot­ers. But that’s hardly an over­whelm­ing lead, and as Bush him­self joked re­cently, “I don’t see any coro­na­tion com­ing my way.”

A third rea­son at­tract­ing so many can­di­dates is the chang­ing me­dia en­vi­ron­ment. In the past, notes po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Dan Sch­nur, mar­ginal can­di­dates could not hope to at­tract much me­dia cov­er­age. “There just wasn’t room in the Wash­ing­ton Post for them,” he told Politico.

But to­day, can­di­dates can reach vot­ers di­rectly through so­cial me­dia plat­forms -- from Twit­ter and Face­book to YouTube and Instagram. “Even a lit­tle bit of me­dia at­ten­tion is enough oxy­gen for a race that wouldn’t have ex­isted a quar­ter-cen­tury ago,” says Sch­nur.

Add a fourth rea­son: Supreme Court de­ci­sions that have en­abled wealthy donors to back in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates through in­de­pen­dent su­per PACs. In the last cy­cle, for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich was kept afloat by one donor, casino bil­lion­aire Shel­don Adel­son, and many of this year’s hope­fuls yearn for an Adel­son-like an­gel to fund their fan­tasies.

There’s a fifth rea­son why so many Repub­li­cans are con­sid­er­ing the race: the widen­ing cracks in Hil­lary Clin­ton’s can­di­dacy. A tor­rent of bad news, from lost emails to se­cret dona­tions, has clearly dam­aged her rep­u­ta­tion. In the Wall Street Jour­nal poll, her neg­a­tives jumped from 36 per­cent to 42 per­cent in just one month.

More se­ri­ously, only 1 in 4 vot­ers views her as hon­est and straight­for­ward. She stills beats her main GOP ri­vals in head-to-head match-ups, but her mar­gin over Paul is only three points, and over Jeb Bush, it’s six. Sud­denly, the GOP nom­i­na­tion seems a lot more valu­able.

His­tory teaches a sixth les­son. The last three Demo­cratic pres­i­dents-- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clin­ton and Barack Obama -- were all out­siders when they ran. None of them waited their turn or de­ferred to their el­ders. Clearly many younger Repub­li­can hope­fuls have learned from their ex­am­ple: Take a chance. It might not come around again.

Of course, not all of the GOP can­di­dates ac­tu­ally be­lieve they can win the nom­i­na­tion. Some, like Fio­r­ina, might be an­gling for vice pres­i­dent. Oth­ers might be hop­ing to raise their pro­files and fill their pock­ets.

Huck­abee, af­ter all, cashed in af­ter his failed run in 2008 by se­cur­ing lu­cra­tive TV, book and speech deals. He even did a cheesy di­a­betes in­fomer­cial.

But no mat­ter what their se­cret dreams or hid­den mo­tives might be, a boat-load of Repub­li­cans are all ask­ing the same ques­tion right now.

Why not me?

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