Robert Ehlert: Mounting number of presidential candidates hard to ignore

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to look away from the 2016 presidential race — even now, seven months out from the first test, more than 500 days from election day.

It’s even harder to resist writing about it because this thing is shaping up like a NASCAR event on a chicken bone track — that’s a throwback to a time when people threw things, like chicken bones, at participants. I learned this years ago during a visit to Talladega, Ala.

With at least as many teams as some NASCAR events, there are going to be crashes and flame-outs — and no yellow flags. Are there really 30 to 40 people vying for the White House? Consider some of the evidence.

The other day I got access to a piece of mail from Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was asking recipients to “review the following list of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates and offer your present personal assessment of them as a national leader who is able to carry our Party banner into the 2016 presidential election.”

There are 30 pictures on this “ballot,” which also asks for money. Though all of the GOP hopefuls who already have declared as candidates are listed, there are some people who, to my knowledge, have never given any indication they are planning to run: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Sarah Palin; Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.; Gov. Brian Sandoval, R- Nev. What?

Add to this the Independents and Democrats — Hillary Clinton; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont; Gov. Lincoln Chaffee, D-R.I.; Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md.; and throw in Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for good measure — and there’s your NASCAR field.

I can’t ever remember a presidential election when there were this many names at play. In past elections there may have been a dozen, but not dozens .

When there is such a big crowd, who gets the attention? The people at the front of the pack (ahead in the polls) and those who crash (scandal), spin out (embarrassing truths revealed) or suffer flat tires (funding dries up).

When and how will the GOP herd be thinned?

While I had Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, on the phone recently (seperate conversations) to ask about other matters, I asked that bonus question.

“Many of those people are going to be whittled down in the early going,” predicted Labrador, who is, overall impressed with the field — especially Sen. Rand Paul, whose campaign he is assisting . “If you look at the polling right now, there are a bunch of people at 1 percent. They won’t be able to keep moving because they don’t have the money, the structure.”

Risch basically agrees.

“Between the debates and all the public appearances these people do and their ability to raise money — you know, money only comes to those who have something to offer — given all that, it will pare down pretty quickly,” Risch said. “It will shake out. ... I only wish the Democrats had the same thing.

“As one of these (GOP candidates) rises, they (Democrats) are going to do the same thing they did to Romney. They had Romney beat before he ever left the primary,” he said, referencing all the recorded video and other documentation of interparty squabbling.

Labrador is concerned about that, too — that Democrats again will exploit GOP infighting during the primary season and replay videos of Republicans essentially eating their own.

“We have to be really careful in the kind of campaigns that we run and try not to destroy other people,” Labrador cautioned. “We can talk about differences that we have, and there are many, but you have to be careful not to destroy one another because you’re going to need all those coalitions to work together so we can move on and actually win the election.

“Candidates running against each other tend to attack each other. But you have to be welcoming of the other candidates. You have to give them a role. Whoever wins should give them a (spot) at the convention so they can give them their five minutes to explain why they were running.”

We’ll all be watching to see how nice these candidates are to one another — staying in their lanes, politely passing instead of running opponents over, graciously bowing out when there is a checkered flag out there and then driving in an orderly convoy to support Team Kumbaya.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.