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Politics

Who'll Face Obama in 2012?

Never mind the midterms. The real battle for control is two years away, with no shortage of GOP prospects. Here's our rundown.

A huge field of potential GOP presidential candidates is already shaping up for 2012. Several are networking early, traveling through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first caucus and primary states. Plenty of unofficial exploratory committees and strategy chats. Official announcements will come next spring.

GOP gains in the midterms will juice Republicans’ confidence and make the prize attractive. So will continued Tea Party activism, broad dissatisfaction with the Obama administration, frustration over the economy and towering federal debt. Figure on there being no consensus candidate. None will have the ability to dominate early on or scare off contenders. It could well be a long haul to a nomination.

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Sarah Palin. We expect her to run and have a good shot in the primaries. She draws the largest and most enthusiastic crowds, for sure. She’ll wait very late before announcing. That way, she’ll limit an early onslaught of attacks. A win in Iowa, a respectable showing in New Hampshire and a win in South Carolina could propel her to the finish line. She’ll constantly battle critics who say that she can’t appeal to moderates. That’ll be fine with her in a nomination battle -- moderates aren’t the kingmakers there.

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Mitt Romney. He’ll be a better candidate than he was in 2008 -- better on the stump, with a sharper message on the economy, jobs, manufacturing and government overreach. He’s already lining up local lawmaker support in the early primary states and aggressively pursuing support of social conservatives.

Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker is pining for the glory of the 1994 GOP election sweep. He’d struggle to raise resources to be a major contender. He could shine in some debates, but overly caustic rhetoric designed to stoke the far right could cost him. Critics will say he has little governing expertise.

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Mike Huckabee. The former governor -- a talk show host and Baptist preacher -- won Iowa last time and nipped at John McCain’s heels in the South. That was without Palin in the mix. He’ll struggle in the money game, same as last time.

Haley Barbour. The Mississippi governor and former Republican National Committee chair knows the party as well as any. He’s a fundraising pro and would have some of the best operatives working for him. He’d sweep the South if nominated, but he’s barely known elsewhere.

Tim Pawlenty. Retiring as governor of Minnesota this year, Pawlenty is clearly leaning toward running. He delights at the speculation. His problem is the opposite of Palin’s concern. He’ll attract moderates and independents but may struggle to light a fire with conservatives. If they want a rabble-rouser, it won’t be with Pawlenty. Also, he’ll be in a tough money chase with Huckabee and others.

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Rick Santorum. Some social conservatives will flock to him with his strict antiabortion and Catholic morals crusade, but not enough. It’s also not clear that social issues will dominate debate.

Mitch Daniels. The Indiana governor and former George W. Bush White House budget director has been making stops in Iowa recently. He’d strike a government reform and deficit reduction message, positioning himself as a practical manager intent on reducing the federal bureaucracy. That may not be exciting or compelling enough to sell in primaries.

Chris Christie. The N.J. governor, like Daniels, is tempted, lifted in GOP standings for taking on teacher unions and for toppling Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine last year. He’ll run, possibly for no other reason than to raise his profile a bit on the national stage.

Ron Paul. The representative from Texas will run again. He had too much fun in 2008 on a shoestring budget and no real prospect of winning. He’ll use a second campaign again as a stage to speak against federal monetary policy.

Meg Whitman. If the California businesswoman wins the high profile governor’s race, there’ll be immediate speculation about the former eBay chief running for president and possibly being able to carry the state’s huge electoral prize in a general election. If she ran, she’d be a late entrant and would probably have to be coaxed into running after just starting out as governor.

Michael Bloomberg. The New York City mayor, an independent, laughs off questions about a presidential run. That could change, though. He’d be a highly credible and powerful voice, and he’d tap his huge fortune to finance a top tier campaign. 2012 could be the year for a strong independent bid, like Ross Perot 20 years earlier.

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