Trail To The Chief: The Darkest Of The 2016 Dark Horses Edition

The Darkest of the 2016 Dark Horses Edition

Let's talk about the enduring story of the "dark horse" candidate. Anyone remember the halcyon days of March 2007? The pre-primary season was in full swing, and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was said to be "solidifying" his lead atop the GOP primary polls. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was the entrenched favorite, with former Vice President Al Gore and a senator named Barack Obama vying for second place. And then, a year passed, and one of the lessons we learned was that early primary polling is not very accurate!

But another lesson we learned is that as much as we might think we know who the contenders for the Oval Office are, a year in advance of meaningful primary voting, our political system still has the capacity to surprise. When Obama jumped into the race in February 2008, the idea that he'd ascend to the top tier of candidates -- let alone became the nominee -- seemed far-fetched. As recently as 2012, Republican Rick Santorum defied the Beltway touts who had him penciled in as a permanent also-ran by emerging as Mitt Romney's most capable opponent, his gradual slide from the far reaches of the debate stage to the center spotlight serving as testament to the idea that you've always got a puncher's chance.

So, is the field really set? Do we really know as much as we think we do about who has the best shot at the White House? In deference to the wonderful way events can change everything and capsize our tidy ideas, we challenged ourselves to think about the potential for a dark horse candidate to emerge and wreck the conventional wisdom. We've pulled our distant hopefuls from the bottom of 2016 listicles, the back pages of memory and even from some of your shrewd suggestions. We are surely forgetting someone, so if you know something we don't, please let us know!

1 JOHN KASICHIn “The Case For Kasich,” the National Journal says, “no Republican politician would run a more fascinating, provocative, original campaign.” (Is there such a thing as an “original” campaign, though?) Republican
2 RUSS FEINGOLDA Democratic standard-bearer, a potential comeback story and a liberal favorite. Most intriguing quality may be his ability to play well with the other side. Democrat
3 HOWARD DEANThere was a brief mad moment when he was actually dropping hints. There was also a longer period when he was a health care lobbyist. Democrat
4 GEORGE PATAKIThere was a brief period of time when Pataki wasn’t dropping hints that he wanted to run. That time? When he was asleep. Really, really, really wants you to think of him as a candidate. Republican
5 SUSANA MARTINEZHispanic, woman, western, governor. Checks a lot of boxes. Has perennial buzz as a “candidate to watch.” Republican
6 AMY KLOBUCHARHas shown real skill as a legislator and maintains her cheerful Midwestern appeal back home. No national name recognition, but the media have been known to prick up their ears when she pays a visit to Iowa. Democrat
7 CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERSHas managed to find herself on those “women who could/should/might run for president” lists. Tapped for leadership role in House GOP. Hasn’t shown much interest, however. Republican
8 JOHN HICKENLOOPERFormer Romney adviser Stuart Stevens once named Hickenlooper as the candidate who’d beat Hillary in the primaries. Of course, former Romney adviser Stuart Stevens once named Mitt Romney as the candidate who’d beat Obama in the general. Democrat
9 SHERROD BROWNThe Elizabeth Warren who's from Ohio. Democrat
10 MIKE PENCEThe Mike Huckabee who's from Indiana. Republican
11 NIKKI HALEYThe GOP has lots of female governors that are always thought to be suited for a presidential bid. When will one of them actually make the attempt? Republican
12 JOHN BOLTONThe dark horse candidate most likely to terrify all the normal horses. Republican
13 TIM KAINE“Is Tim Kaine the new Harry Truman?” asks The Washington Post. Sure, why not? Democrat
14 PETER KINGPeter King actually started telling people he wanted to run for president years ago, but it’s not clear that what he’s actually doing is just trolling Rand Paul. Republican
15 JOE SCARBOROUGH Can you imagine all the insane things that would have to happen for Joe Scarborough to become a presidential nominee? If so, you should write science fiction! Republican

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press