First, a few of notes about the field of potential contenders: a good chunk of the Republicans who are seriously considering a run are ones that were involved in the 2008 race, as candidates in the primary (Romney, Huckabee, Paul) or were on the ticket (Palin). Also, many of them will be out of office if they opt in for the 2012 race (Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin, Hagel) - they won't have to balance the campaign schedule with governing, and the last couple of years have been full of tough choices for budgets around the country - not an easy time to be in office. Mitt Romney has been positioning himself as the candidate most adept at economic issues, but Chris Cillizza aptly points out so far there has been no "national security guy" in the Republican field. Lastly, Republicans like a front runner.
Possible 2012 Republican Contenders:
Mitt Romney (former Governor of Massachusetts) ran in 2008 and as of now is the likely front runner for the 2012 Republican nomination. He worked hard for John McCain after losing the nomination in 2008 and really impressed a lot of people. Mr. Romney has been focused on the economy for the last two years and if the economy is still issue #1 he is going to be difficult to beat for the Republican nomination in 2012.
Tim Pawlenty (Governor of Minnesota) is staffed up and ready to go. More than any of the other contenders, Romney and Pawlenty are getting their organizations in place and traveling around the country introducing themselves and lining up support. Gov. Pawlenty, though, has many more introductions to make - most Americans don't know who he is. He is not running for reelection this year, so will be a former governor come January.
Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) gave some good advice to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels: if people think that you might run for President, they will pay more attention to you and your ideas. My thinking is that Mr. Gingrich is taking his own advice. He has positioned himself as an ideas man and is making some serious money. His personal baggage is too much to be successful in a Republican primary, and my assumption is that he knows that. Side note: Esquire's recent article on Gingrich is well worth the read.
Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas) ran in 2008 and went from obscurity to well known around the country. He kept his campaign positive and showed an excellent sense of humor (his Chuck Norris ad is one I show my classes). He did very well with social conservatives and younger votes, but the question remains how wide his appeal will be. Mr. Huckabee has remained in the public eye, primarily with a show on FOX News.
Sarah Palin (former Governor of Alaska) is invariably near the top of the list when the 2012 conversation topic comes up. The reaction to the idea of Mrs. Palin as President (or as a candidate) is one that does vary significantly. Some love her, some hate her. She has great name recognition and visibility, but that can hurt as her image has been crafted already. Now she has to shape a preexisting image, a harder task in someways that a candidate introducing themselves to a new audience. Many Republicans are hesitant to support her as they feel she would make a poor candidate in a general election (and resigning as Governor still has many baffled).
Chuck Hagel (former Senator from Nebraska) would make a great president and seriously considered running in 2008. He opted against running for President after correctly assessing that he would not be able to prevail in the Republican primary (thought he would have made a great general election candidate given the issues that dominated that fall's race). He retired from the Senate and made good on his 1996 pledge to only serve two terms. He has stayed active, particularly in foreign and intelligence policy issues, but my guess is that he will not run in 2012. Were he to run, he would bring the national security and foreign policy expertise that is lacking in the rest of the field.
Rick Santorum (former Senator from Pennsylvania) lost his seat in the Senate in the 2006 election, but remains popular among the social conservatives of the party. Santorum has been popping up on lists for possible 2012 contenders, especially since he visited Iowa last year. As Politico notes: "Clearly, though, Santorum is striving to remain in the public eye. He’s a Fox News contributor, guest-hosts William Bennett’s nationally syndicated radio show every Friday morning and writes a regular column in the Philadelphia Inquirer." Bottom line for me, though, is that he got beat in his reelection campaign in a key swing state.
Haley Barbour (Governor of Mississippi) has a strong reputation as Governor (his state came away from Katrina looking much better than their neighbor to the West) and is considering a 2012 run. Gov. Barbour is a powerhouse in Republican politics, as a former chairman of the RNC and current head of the RGA. From Politico:
"Barbour’s clout is also derived from his serious interest in running for president in 2012, a point he is making clear in private conversations. His logic, one adviser told POLITICO, is simple: When he surveys what most Republicans consider to be a weak field, he sees no reason he couldn’t easily beat them. He’s a better strategist and fundraiser than any other candidate currently considering running — and just as good on television and in debates, his thinking goes."
Mitch Daniels (Governor of Indiana) is another Governor that has been encouraged to run in 2012. For a nice overview of Gov. Daniels, check out the Economist, which has a nice piece on him. The Washington Post reported that while he had previously said that he will not run for President in 2012, he has backed off that stance and is now keeping his mind open to the idea, largely because a number of people have urged him to run. At this point he would be a long shot and seems unlikely to jump in the race, but I would like to see him seriously consider it. One strike against Mr. Daniels: significant baldness. When was the last time you saw a bald President? There are not even many bald governors. When Joe Biden decided to run for President in 2008 what did he do? He got hair plugs.
John Thune (Senator from South Dakota) has supporters telling him to run in 2012 and will be giving it serious consideration. He is up for reelection this year, which would give him a good fundraising opportunity. The Fix outlines his strengths and weakness as a 2012 contender as they see it.
Ron Paul (U.S. House member from Texas) is apparently planning on running again in 2012. Rep. Paul energized people across the country in his 2008 race, but didn't end up swaying that many voters. My prediction: he won't win.
Mike Pence (U.S. House member from Indiana) is probably kicking himself for not jumping into the 2010 Indiana Senate contest (everyone seemed surprised that Sen. Evan Bayh decided not to run for reelection). He has said that he is considering a 2012 run at the White House. He is a darling of the ideological right wing of the party, but a U.S. House member has a tough road to the White House (no one in the 20th Century did it). A run may be useful to Rep. Pence to increase his name recognition and national image, but I would see it as a long shot.
Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana) is mentioned as a possibility for 2012, but my bet is that he will wait for 2016 (if President Obama is reelected). He's young (only 39) and has time to wait. If he opts to run it is likely just to advance his image and make him a more serious player in the party and to build the groundwork for a later run.
And now for the waaay too far off speculation: the 2016 race. These are the people I'll be watching for the 2016 race.
Hillary Clinton has said that she will not run for President again, but is going to be the first name many think of for the 2016 Democratic field.
Evan Bayh (former Indiana Governor and Senator)
Mark Warner (Senator from Virginia)
The Republicans (assuming President Obama is reelected, otherwise the incumbent will likely be a shoo in for the nomination):
Jon Huntsman (U.S. Ambassador to China, former Utah Governor)
Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana)
John Thune (Senator from South Dakota)
I would love to hear from readers: what are your thoughts on the Republican 2012 field or about the potential candidates themselves.