GOP strategists fear 2016 primary free-for-all will benefit Hillary

“To beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 you need a strong candidate,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said of his party’s 2016 contenders. “A crowded field has the potential to give Hillary a bigger leg-up than she currently has.”

The contrast poses opportunities and threats for the GOP.

A winning candidate could emerge from a crowded primary stronger and battle tested, much as President Obama was strengthened from a 2008 primary fight with Clinton.

But a crowded primary could also weaken a GOP nominee by extending the fight and exhausting the eventual winner physically and financially.

Or, it could muddle things enough to allow a weaker nominee to emerge.