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Hillary's Toughest Opponent

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Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
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It appears that Hillary Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and her Republican opponent will be Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz. Which of these four would the most challenging in a debate?

The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders, 55.9 percent versus 30 percent. She also leads him in Iowa by 24 percent and in South Carolina by 31 percent; only in New Hampshire does Clinton trail Sanders, by 1 percent.

The Republican prospects are murkier. The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Donald Trump leading (29.3 percent) followed by Ben Carson (24.1 percent), Marco Rubio (8.8 percent), Ted Cruz (7.3 percent), and Jeb Bush (7.1 percent). However, Carson leads Trump in Iowa (by 6.8 percent) while Trump leads Carson in New Hampshire (by 17.7 percent). Meanwhile, Rubio has become the favorite of the oddsmakers, given a 42 percent chance to win, versus Trump (18 percent), Carson (11 percent), Cruz (10 percent), and Bush (10 percent).

According to instant polls, Donald Trump was the winner of the third Republican debate. However, the experts at the 538 web site judged the debate winner as Rubio, followed by Cruz, Christie, Fiorina, Carson, Kasich, Huckabee, and Trump; with Paul and Bush bringing up the rear. (The consensus is that Jeb Bush will not be the Republican nominee.)

Let's suppose that at the First Presidential debate on September 26, 2016, Hillary Clinton debates one of the GOP prophets of gloom and doom, "The four horsemen of the apocalypse," Trump, Carson, Rubio, or Cruz. Which would give Hillary the most trouble?

Clinton is an experienced politician and debater. In 2008, she and Barack Obama participated in 26 debates and she'll appear in 6 more Democratic debates.

Donald Trump is a billionaire with no political experience; that's his strength with the Republican base that prefers an outsider. While Trump radiates sound bites he doesn't have polished policy positions; recently Trump refused to do a radio interview if they asked him any policy questions. Trump's aggressive style could ruffle Hillary; he won't back down and will lie if necessary. (In the latest Republican debate, Trump told three whoppers: he falsely accused John Kasich of being on the board of Lehman Brothers, he denied calling Marco Rubio "Mark Zuckenberg's personal senator," and falsely claimed credit for shortening the CNBC debate from three to two hours.)

Ben Carson is a famous neurosurgeon who was director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins from 1984 to 2013; he's another Republican "outsider" candidate. Carson differs from Trump in two key respects: he's unassuming and extremely religious (he's a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church that believes the bible is literally true and the second coming of Christ is imminent.) Like Trump, Carson's policy positions are sketchy. Hillary's challenge will be to expose Carson's naivete while treating him respectfully and not be thrown off by the fact that Carson will lie on occasion (during the third Republican debate, Carson lied about his association with nutritional supplement manufacturer Mannatech).

Marco Rubio is a first-term Senator from Florida. It appears he is the insider candidate that has supplanted Jeb Bush as the representative of the Republican establishment. Unlike Trump and Carson, Rubio has polished policy positions. He's also 24 years younger than Hillary. Rubio is a skilled debater and has an earnest manner that belies his ambition and willingness to lie. (During the third Republican debate, Rubio lied about his personal finances.) During a debate with Hillary, Rubio's challenge would be to defend positions he's changed several times (such as immigration). Clinton's challenge would be to treat him with respect and not be rattled when he reveals his true nature as the proverbial "baby-faced assassin."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz also has a shot at capturing the Republican nomination. He's another outsider candidate. (In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll Cruz was in fourth place when Republicans were asked who their first choice was for the GOP nomination and he was tied for second when voters were asked for their second choice.) His strategy seems to be to hang back and wait for the collapse of Donald Trump's campaign. (That would leave Carson with the evangelical vote, Rubio with the "insider" vote, and Cruz with the Tea-Party vote.) Cruz might be Clinton's toughest opponent; he was a champion debater at both Princeton and Harvard Law School. (He demonstrated his debating chops during the third Republican debate.) Cruz has well-articulated very conservative opinions, is as aggressive as Donald Trump, and is more than willing to lie to make his point (Politifact reported that two-thirds of his political statements are false.)

At the moment, Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to defeat any of the GOP's four horsemen of the apocalypse.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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