Doesn’t it kind of feel like every politician you’ve ever heard of (and a bunch you haven’t) are running for president this year? Once all the announcements roll out, there could be more than a dozen Republican contenders and half a dozen Democratic ones, making for the biggest total field of potential candidates in modern history.
Blame President Obama
"You're likely to have more good candidates running when they think the incumbent president or their party is vulnerable in the general election," said Columbia University political science professor Robert Y. Shapiro. "In this election you've had two terms of a democratic president and it's hard for a party that's been in power twice to hold on. There's also the perception that the performance of Obama and the Democrats hasn't been good, so it's like 2008 when Republicans were vulnerable because of George Bush and a lot of candidates are running against the president and his party."
So far, there are 10 candidates on the Republican side, with two undeclared ones leading the pack. In a recent Washington Post poll, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tops all with 13 percent of likely Republican voters saying they'd cast a ballot for him if a primary was held today, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 11 percent; both men are expected to announced their intentions within the month.
That leaves a close scrum for the remaining candidates fighting to make the cut-off for the first debate (Aug. 6), which will only feature the top 10 polling names, but probably won't be run elimination-style like "American Idol." Sorry. (In case you were wondering, though, the same poll found that the shark from "Jaws," Darth Vader and The Terminator had higher favorability ratings than every announced candidate so far.)
The More The Merrier?
Believe it or not, presidential races actually get more competitive when there are a lot of candidates. "That usually means the nominating contests end up being more competitive and it becomes harder to win the whole thing," Lara Brown, Associate Professor at the graduate school of political management at George Washington University said.
The group is also likely large this time because this is an "open seat" election -- with no incumbent or heir apparent -- and history has shown that it's very hard for the party that's held the White House for two terms to keep it. Democrats have only been able to score a third win after their candidate has served two terms in office twice since 1828.
And though former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed like a runaway favorite early on, she's now facing at least Democrat three competitors, including former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Is More Choice Better For Young Voters?
It's kind of hard to believe that in a country of more than 300 million we actually only have a dozen or so people who think they're qualified to be president. But this relatively wide range of choices is actually the best possible scenario for young voters according to Brown.
"I'd encourage young people to pay as much attention to the primaries as the general election because that's where you get your candidate, the one you agree with most in your party and the one you believe should get involved," she said, noting that young voters don't tend to get engaged until a nominee has been selected and the conventions take place (next Labor Day).
By that point this huge field of candidates will have been significantly cut down and voters will have much less choice, and say. "That's unfortunate, because this is the time when young people can make the biggest difference and can really help their candidate."
Being President Isn't The Only Reason To Run For President
NBC News offered these possible explanations for why so many give it a shot: Running for president can make you famous, and maybe land you a gig on, say, Fox News, like Huckabee. Or turn you into a popular speaker like formerly obscure pizza magnate Hermain Cain.
There's also the pride factor for failed candidates such as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who had enough brief moments of success the first time they ran that they think there's a chance for a do-over. For relative newcomers like Cruz, Paul and Rubio, President Obama has proven that a driven candidate with barely two years of Senate service can win.
And don't forget this: even if you wash out in the primaries, there's a chance a decent showing could land you the VP slot.
Shapiro said it's as big a GOP slate of candidates as he can ever remember and though some have long odds, there's enough of a chance to win that giving it a shot is worth the risk.
"You're looking at them dividing up the vote and when the time comes for the first primaries the vote could be split in such a way that you might only need 15-20 percent to keep going, which is a much lower hurdle," he said. "The odds of any one candidate winning outright are low, but it's low for all the candidates."
There's no real downside (other than making a big gaffe that would be hard to shake), as a run gives each candidate national exposure and a chance to get their policy goals and ideology out there. "The upside is that even if you lose you become a very visible public figure and there are opportunities in other sectors -- entertainment, lobbying, business," Shapiro said.
That's why some of the currently single digit-polling candidates are fighting to make the cut for that first GOP debate, among them: Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Perry and Santorum. And they might have more competition soon, as the list of others who might jump in includes New York Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Just Because You're The Biggest Name Doesn't Mean It'll Be Easy
Clinton's path to the nomination is relatively clear on the Democratic side, but Brown noted that we haven't elected a Secretary of State to the nation's highest office since John Quincy Adams in 1825. "The other factor is that after two very successful midterm elections, Republicans hold a majority of governorships and Senate seats, so there are just more statewide Republican officeholders than we've had since Truman [1945-1953]," Brown said.
"Looking at history, since 1952 each political party has only served two terms in the White House with the exception of Bush senior, so just on historical probability the thumb is on the scale for Republicans to beat Democrats."