A Presidential Race with Unexpected Suspense

The ranks of Democratic presidential candidates could soon swell, making the the 2016 election more suspenseful than expected with a Clinton and a Bush in the running.

The ranks of Democratic presidential candidates could soon swell, making the the 2016 election more suspenseful than expected with a Clinton and a Bush in the running.

The GOP presidential primary field now totals 17 candidates, but suddenly there are signs the Democratic candidate list might swell as well.

There were hints Vice President Joe Biden might honor his dying son's request to make a bid for the White House. And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd tossed the hat into the ring of the Lord of Lattes, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Rekindled interest in the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination follows polls that show frontrunner Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings dropping, especially in critical swing states that she would need to win election next fall. [Clinton will be in Portland this week for a small-group "conversation" with supporters.]

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has demonstrated unexpected appeal on the political stump as he espouses a more full-throated defense of stronger government action to address issues such as income inequality and climate change. Few observers believe Sanders can win the nomination, but his strong showing will push Clinton and perhaps other Democratic candidates more to the political left. Last week, Clinton called for a "fairness economy" that pushes up wages for middle and lower income workers and closes corporate tax loopholes.

Biden's decision to enter the race would have an emotional tag. On his deathbed, Beau Biden urged his father to run. Biden is no stranger to campaigns tinged with personal tragedy. His first wife and a 13-month-old daughter were killed in a car accident a few weeks after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. He considered resigning, but was persuaded to serve. Biden was sworn in at a ceremony attended by Beau Biden, who was injured in the accident.

In a weekend column, Dowd touted a Schultz candidacy because of his passion as a CEO to repair what he calls the "fraying American dream." She says colleagues have urged Schultz, who grew up in Brooklyn housing projects to enter the race. Schultz wrote a book about the treatment of U.S. veterans that carried the message of making government work again and finding "authentic, truthful leadership."

The burst of candidates on the Democratic side comes on the eve of the first GOP presidential debate this Thursday. There will actually be two debates to accommodate all the candidates, with a prequel for the candidates whose poll numbers are lacking and the main stage for the top 10 challengers, led by Donald Trump.

Trump's brash statements have generated a lot of feedback, both pro and con, and appears to have incited other candidates to amp up their rhetoric. Trump has shown little hesitation to trash-talk others in the field, which could lead to a debate that is more like a food fight than a discussion of policy issues.

Trump managed to suck more air out of the GOP balloon by reserving the right to mount a third-party candidacy if he fails to win the GOP nomination. Pollsters and columnists seized on that possibility to predict Trump would siphon off enough votes to guarantee a Democratic victory in 2016.

However, the actual caucuses and primary elections that count are still a fair distance off. It is not unheard of that candidates emerge from the back of the pack or political obscurity to take command. Barack Obama emerged by surprising the Democratic frontrunner in 2008 – Hillary Clinton – in Iowa caucuses.

If the Democratic field for the 2016 nomination expands, there may be a lot more suspense than anyone could have predicted or expected with a Clinton and a Bush in the race.