The Republican presidential field will swell to nine official candidates in the next week as three new contenders enter the race.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who, in 2012, won the Iowa caucuses and finished second overall to eventual nominee Mitt Romney, is expected to announce his second consecutive presidential bid from Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
On Thursday, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), a long shot, will most likely hit the launch button from New Hampshire.
And Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will enter the race from his hometown of Central, S.C., becoming the fourth senator to throw his hat into the ring.
The trio faces an uphill climb in the fight for money, media, and top-level political staffers and advisers.
Santorum and Graham currently hang on the precipice of the top 10, while Pataki doesn’t register in polls at all.
Of the three, Santorum starts in the best position based on the strength of his 2012 campaign, when he emerged as the most formidable challenger to Romney.
But Republican strategists say the political terrain he faces in 2016 is much more difficult. They are doubtful he’ll be able to recapture the magic from 2012.
“This field is exponentially stronger, and a lot of his momentum from 2012 was based on the anti-Romney vote. It wasn’t necessarily pro-Santorum,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.
Graham also appears to have been spurred to run to thwart the presidential ambitions of his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose foreign policy views he believes are dangerous.
“I still feel the main reason he’s running for president is as a protest vote to Rand Paul, but he could wind up turning this into a Cabinet position,” O’Connell said.