U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) addresses delegates as he introduces Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
Now that the 2012 presidential election is over, we can speculate about the 2016 election. Who will run in four years?
Barack Obama cannot run again, and the Republicans have suffered two serious defeats in a row, so look for the Republicans to try a new tactic in the next four years.
The midterm elections in 2014 should give some clues as to the new direction of the Republican party. Will they try to embrace minorities and women? Or will they double-down on conservative talking points?
For now, let's look at the most likely candidates in 2016.
The Republican field is wide, but whomever is nominated will have a difficult time getting through the primaries, which favor hard-right candidates, in a condition still palatable to the rest of the country.
Defeated vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan wouldn't have that problem, as he's already far-right on most issues, though that didn't serve him well this time around.
He could take a swing at the race, but failed VP candidates don't do too well in national elections. Sarah Palin tried to turn her newfound stardom into political legs, but she bailed on Alaska too soon and has settled for being a second-tier celebrity pundit.
Ryan won his House seat, so he'll still be in office for a while, and that might give him a chance to rebuild credibility, especially if the Republicans decide to move farther to the right rather than becoming a more moderate party.
If the Republicans do moderate their tone, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would be the obvious choice.
He won accolades from Democrats when he toured the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. He's one of the few Republicans in the national spotlight who tries to work across the aisle on occasion, so he might be an easy sell for independents and moderate Democrats, especially those who still bear a grudge against the Clintons.
And it would put New Jersey's 14 electoral votes in play, and perhaps move nearby swing states like Pennsylvania.
But party loyalists tried to convince him to run this year, and he refused, so he may not be interested come 2016.
Republicans might split the difference between Ryan and Christie with Marco Rubio, the popular Cuban-American senator from Florida who introduced Romney at the Republican National Convention in August.
Rubio lost the VP nomination to Ryan, but perhaps the Republicans are rethinking their decision, since the Latino vote in Florida, Colorado and Nevada was crucial to Obama's victories in those states.
Rubio embraces all of the usual Republican policies on abortion and the economy, but differs on immigration reform. But the Republican stance on immigration was more moderate under George W. Bush, when they held the presidency for eight years, so moving back to the middle on that issue could be a winning strategy.
And it would give the Republicans a first to offer the public: the first Hispanic president.
Rubio will be running for reelection in the Senate in 2016, so maybe adding a presidential campaign on top of that isn't so implausible.
The most popular choice for the Democrats in 2016 would be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former senator and first lady, who came a narrow second to Obama in a bid for the Democratic nomination. She has very heavy support on both sides of the aisle, and she has been acclaimed by both Democrats and Republicans in her role as America's foremost ambassador.
She also has the support of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who has become a celebrity among Democrats.
Clinton would also continue the streak of historic firsts for the Democrats, following the first African-American president with the first female president.
But Clinton is still circumspect on whether she'll run.
If not, the traditional choice for the Democrats would be Vice President Joe Biden, who ran for president in 2008 before dropping out of the race and joining the Obama ticket.
Biden is well-liked by the public, and is generally regarded as an honest and relatable politician. But often he isn't taken seriously. Jokes about him are rampant in the media, and he's notorious for speaking off-the-cuff.
While these candid moments sometimes serve him well, like the time he came out in favor of same-sex marriage, prompting the president to officially follow suit, often they serve to cement his reputation as a wild card better suited for a secondary role.
If Hillary Clinton wants the nomination in 2016, it's likely hers. If not, Joe Biden has an excellent chance of securing it, though I'm skeptical of his appeal at the top of a ticket.