Dan Balz

By Dan Balz, Chief correspondent
January 10, 2015 at 8:10 PM

AURORA, Colo. — It’s been a good few weeks for Jeb Bush, who has been setting the pace among prospective 2016 presidential candidates — at least in the view of some in the elite world of political donors, strategists and commentators. But even before the news that Mitt Romney is thinking about a third campaign, a dissenting view on Bush was registered here Thursday night.

A dozen Denver-area residents spent two hours dissecting the state of the country and its politics. The 12 participants — Democrats, Republicans and independents — are weary of political dynasties. They were dismissive, sometimes harshly, in their assessments of Bush, the former Florida governor. They were also chilly toward former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. View Archive

When the name of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was introduced into the conversation, however, many of those around the table, regardless of party affiliation, responded positively. To this group, who spoke in stark terms throughout the evening about the economic challenges of working Americans, Warren has struck a chord.

The two-hour session, moderated by Democratic pollster Peter Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, turned upside down much of the conversation about the coming presidential campaign, where Bush and Clinton occupy so much space.

It is important to emphasize that this was simply one group of 12 people. They are not necessarily a representative cross section of the entire population, any more than a dozen donors or a dozen strategists would be. But as with all recruited focus groups, the collective impressions and individual observations provide a valuable counterpoint to the conversation that is taking place among political insiders.

The participants in Aurora have barely begun to engage with their 2016 choices; most are not even close to the starting line. But they are underwhelmed by the prospect of a race pitting another Bush against another Clinton. When Charlie Loan, an IT program manager and Republican-leaning independent, said half-seriously that he would be happy if Congress would pass a law banning anyone named Bush or Clinton from running, half the people in the room agreed.

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