Incumbent Democratic President Frank Underwood is running for a second and final term during this election. Despite claiming he wouldn't seek election in April 2015, Underwood announced his candidacy later that year and secured his party's nomination, facing off challenges from Heather Dunbar and Jackie Sharp. He selected First Lady Claire Underwood to be his running mate during the contested 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Underwood's major challenger is the Republican candidate, Governor of New York Will Conway, who announced his candidacy in May 2015 and easily secured his party's nomination.
President Garrett Walker had resigned in 2014 in the wake of his Administration's dealings with Raymond Tusk and Xander Feng regarding money laundering and political contributions, but before doing so, he appointed Frank Underwood as Vice President via the Twenty-fifth Amendment after Jim Matthews resigned to run for his former position as Governor of Pennsylvania to replace the late Peter Russo as the Democratic nominee. Underwood was thus the second sitting President who had never been elected to national office. Saddled with Congressional leadership that had expressed their distaste for him, Underwood first faced serious opposition from within his own party, when he was challenged for the Democratic Party's nomination by both former Solicitor General and special prosecutor Heather Dunbar and former House Majority Whip and current Assistant House Minority Whip Jackie Sharp.
- Frank Underwood, 46th President of the United States 2014-present; Vice President of the United States 2013-2014; House Majority Whip 2005-2013; U.S. Representative from South Carolina's 5th congressional district 1991-2013
- Heather Dunbar, former U.S. Solicitor General; former special prosecutor to investigate the Walker Administration's dealings with Raymond Tusk and Xander Feng regarding money laundering and political contributions (withdrew in Chapter 46)
- Jackie Sharp, Assistant House Minority Whip 2015-present; House Majority Whip 2013-2015; U.S. Representative from California's 5th congressional district 2009-present (withdrew in Chapter 37, endorsed Heather Dunbar)
Hector Mendoza, U.S. Senator from Arizona and Senate Majority Leader, was named as a strong contender for the Republican nomination in the 2016 election for President of the United States by Bob Birch, but neither Birch nor Mendoza would confirm or deny this to Underwood. Mendoza later resigned amidst a scandal of accepting undeclared payments for speeches and was replaced as Senate Majority Leader by Senator Henry Mitchell.
In May 2015, Governor Will Conway of New York formally announced his candidacy, and in the following months gained 30 points among GOP primary voters (beginning his candidacy with 18 percent support), with 48 percent support shortly after (his presumed win in) the Iowa caucuses. Conway later clinched the nomination and chose General Ted Brockhart as his running mate.