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Presidential Candidates Encounter Bumps In Early Campaigns

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's a long road to November 2016, but we've already seen some bends in that road. Several of the more prominent candidates aren't where they expected to be. Jeb Bush, no longer the Republican front-runner, according to some polls. And Hillary Clinton has three opponents on the Democratic side, and they're not reluctant to criticize her. NPR's Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with the Republicans. A Washington Post-ABC poll says Jeb Bush is no longer the Republican front-runner. This news comes just in time for him to formally declare his candidacy. Have a couple of other campaigns just gotten off to very good starts?

ELVING: Yes, in a word. Very good starts for Scott Walker and also for Marco Rubio - not perfect certainly, but better than Jeb Bush's beginning, so far. Scott Walker appears to be opening something of a lead over the other candidates in Iowa, and both he and Marco Rubio have found a lot of friendly reception wherever they've gone. They're doing as well as Bush or better in the national polls. And we should say, polls at this point, you know, highly speculative indicators, not telling you what's going to happen in the long-run, perhaps. But what does it mean if polls mostly measure name recognition and you're going down in the polls? And Jeb Bush is clearly going down in all the major polls from where he was back last winter.

SIMON: Senator Rand Paul - lots of national attention in the debate over data collection and national security. And it affected legislation. Is this the kind of issue that can drive his campaign?

ELVING: It's driving his campaign right now. He needed this because he needed to reconnect with the base voters who loved his father, Ron Paul. And now by reconnecting with them, he seems to have distanced himself from a lot of his Senate colleagues. It got quite personal on the floor of the Senate. That could come back to hurt him. But more importantly, he has outlined his views of the foreign policy questions, particularly with respect to national security issues, terrorism, in such a way that he's become a punching bag for many of the other Republican candidates. They're all ganging up on him. So his numbers too are down a bit in the polls. It's not clear if he's going to be able to put this thing together of building from his father's base.

SIMON: Democrats now - Bernie Sanders climbing in the polls, raising money. What's he done right?

ELVING: You know, Bernie Sanders is someone who clearly has a message, who clearly speaks for a part of the party that has always felt shut out at the presidential level, or nearly always. He calls himself a socialist. He is someone with nothing to lose, in the usual political sense. And so he's out there saying just what he thinks and taking it to the Democratic front-runner - if we're going to use terms such as that - Hillary Clinton, who's clearly the person most people are looking to in the Democratic Party. So because he can be outspoken, because he can articulate issues, because he can take positions that he believes in and can express with passion, he's connecting with a lot of democratic potential primary participants.

SIMON: And any sign that other Democrats are looking or hoping other people will jump in?

ELVING: You know, Jerry Brown is 77 years old, so he is too old. Cory Booker, the new senator from New Jersey, is probably too new. And James Webb, who is a former senator from Virginia, former Navy secretary back in the Reagan years - he is an intriguing character. If he gets in, makes it official, that'll be a great topic for another day.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.