The early jockeying for 2016 reflects the uncertainty in a Republican Party that has been going through a generational and strategic shift since Romney, 66, lost in Nov. Among the most prominent potential contenders, Cruz, Rubio, Ryan and Jindal are all in their early 40s. Walker is 45 and Paul and Christie, both 50, are the oldest. The lack of an obvious front-runner for the upcoming presidential election is not unusual for the Democratic Party but is for Republicans, who for generations have typically had an experienced contender in line to run for the White House.
"There is no anointed person now, and that's a change," said Tom Rath, Republican strategist in New Hampshire who has advised Romney and former president George W. Bush. The chaos in the Republican field contrasts sharply with the picture for Democrats, who continue to wait for a definitive sign from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the clear front-runner if she decides to jump into the race.
That has made Clinton a target of Republican arrows in Congress and online, attacks that have been fueled by their questions over how she handled the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September. Republicans could be setting a new ideological course after years in which the party has gotten more conservative, even as the nation's voters have become more diverse and likelier to support moderate and liberal Democrats.
Paul's focus on civil liberties, Cruz's brash, no-apologies conservatism and Christie's moderation-with-an-edge approach could be among the key forces competing for attention in the Republican race, analysts say. And then there is former Pennsylvania congressman Rick Santorum, who had some bright moments in the 2012 campaign as a conservative alternative to Romney.