GOP Hopefuls Already Lining Up
Look for a large and varied Republican field running for the party’s presidential nomination. The combination of a polarized and angry electorate, a struggling president and a potential dearth of legislative accomplishments has several Republicans doing a lot more than pondering an eventual run. Add in prospects of a weak economic recovery, a long-term problem with the national debt and uncertain outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq and you have the makings of a fierce political battle. Sitting presidents – even wounded ones -- still have big advantages when they seek reelection (e.g., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), but there are plenty of one-terms to prove incumbency is not a guarantee (e.g., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush).
Republicans aren’t likely to coalesce early around a consensus candidate, as they did for Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bob Dole in 1996 or Bush in 2000. Figure on a split among GOP candidates appealing to the religious right and those appealing to business interests, independents and such. There will be plenty of arguments about the big tent approach vs. the need to energize the core – and a big unknown is the future of the Tea Party movement. At this point, though, several prospects are actively laying the groundwork.
Mitt Romney. He’ll run on his business record. He’ll try to look like the natural GOP succession candidate. He’s still pretty stiff on the stump, but getting better. He’s got a boatload of dollars and can help GOP candidates in many states. But a question remains: If he didn’t fire up conservatives four years ago, why will he in 2012? If he goes too far right, he’ll lose moderates and independents.
Tim Pawlenty. The Minnesota governor is clearly angling to run. He’ll portray himself as someone who can win blue states and appeal to independents. But like Romney, Pawlenty has yet to prove he can get conservatives excited.
Haley Barbour. The Mississippi governor and former RNC chairman would be a fundraising powerhouse and a star for southern conservatives. He could win back some of the swing states that Obama won, including Virginia and North Carolina and maybe Florida and Missouri. Increasingly, he’s drawing interest from party professionals.
Mitch Daniels. A spate of news stories has put the spotlight on the Indiana governor and former White House budget director, who’s put fiscal conservative policies into action with great success. The results he’s produced in Indiana give him more credibility than most, and as concern over the federal budget deficit keeps rising, more people will be looking at Daniels closely. His image is more of a budget wonk than a charismatic leader, but the country might be ready for that.
Sarah Palin. Odds are against it for now. She’d want to be essentially drafted. That will be hard. Plenty of Republicans with high aspirations will attack her hard and fast over her record and her resume, insisting she can’t get elected. Also, her early resignation as governor still bothers many. It was mostly seen as an effort by her to make millions on her book and speeches. If Palin does run, she’ll certainly draw support from many conservatives, but less clear is whether she could ever expand her appeal to independents. In the end, too many Republicans may feel that while she can win the nomination, she can’t win the election.
Newt Gingrich. The scholarly former Speaker who led the GOP revolution in 1994 thrives on political controversy and confrontation. He’d light up debates. Problem: He’d be seen as a little shopworn by 2012, and he has his own series of personal scandals that trail him.
Mike Huckabee. You can tell he’s itching to run again. His FOX television talk show will keep him in front of conservative crowds. But it would be tough for him to find the magic again. He’d be weighed down by his generous prisoner clemency policies when he was governor, for one. He wants to expand the GOP appeal to Hispanics and more women. It’s unclear that is the winning strategy for the primaries.
Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator is a favorite of social conservatives and a long-time champion of the anti-abortion rights movement. He’d have to expand his appeal to have any chance.
John Thune. Don’t count him out. As a U.S. senator from South Dakota, he’ll have lots of heartland appeal. If he runs, he’d need to show some early fundraising strength to be considered viable.
Meg Whitman. If she wins the race for governor of California, the billionaire former head of eBay would be quickly considered a possible presidential candidate. Just the thought that she could carry California (and all its 53 electoral votes) in a presidential race and win over women voters would make Obama’s political staff plenty nervous.
Bobby Jindal. The popular young Louisiana governor probably won’t run. He has time to wait, and may need to in order to appear more seasoned. He may figure that the odds are Obama wins reelection and that an open presidential race in 2016 might be a better time for him to run.
Jeb Bush. Chances are nearly zero that the former governor of Florida will run in 2012, despite constant speculation. He is giving no indications he is even considering it. A third Bush in the White House would be a nonstarter with many, as the first two Bushes ended up alienating much of the conservative base.