Sunday, May 15, 2011

2012 - Who Is In and Who Is Out

With Mike Huckabee's announcement last night that he will not seek the GOP nomination in 2012, the shape of the field is becoming a lot more clear. Huckabee's decision makes a lot of sense personally - he has come into a great deal of wealth since the 2008 campaign as a national personality on Fox News and a Presidential bid would have taken a significant toll both personally and financially. His non-presence in the race shakes things up a bit, since he was certainly one of two defacto front-runners for the nomination (the other being former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.)

So let's take stock of who's in, who's out and who may be in for the GOP for 2012.
Definitely In (Have Declared)
Newt Gingrich - the former Speaker of the House and so-called GOP "idea man" is definitely having a go. He has national name recognition, but that's part of his problem - people don't particularly like Newt. He's a serious candidate, but I certainly don't see him as a favorite to either win the nomination or the general election.

Ron Paul - the perennial Libertarian Republican draws huge crowds and big fundraising everywhere he goes. But his brand of extreme defense of individual liberties doesn't resonate well outside of a small group in the GOP. Most of the Christian Conservatives that show up on primary day don't want legal drugs, recognition of gay marriage or a halving of the military. Still, Paul will make some noise and be a lot of fun. But no chance he wins the nomination.

Gary Johnson - the former Governor of New Mexico could actually split the Libertarian wing, as he is very similar in his politics to Paul. Sometimes more articulate on stage, although not as charismatic, Johnson will be fun to watch, but is not a serious player for the same reasons that Paul isn't.

Probably In (Have Formed Exploratory Committees)
Tim Pawlenty - the former two-term Governor of Minnesota used to be a moderate, a guy who favored cap-and-trade, moderate views on social issues and common-sense bi-partisanship. To win the GOP nomination, he is trying to walk back some of those views and appeal to the GOP base. Pawlenty is not the greatest speech-giver in the world, but he is a serious candidate and was a very respected governor. With Huckabee out and the field wide open, Pawlenty could be a player for the nomination.

Mitt Romney - the former Massachusetts Governor is almost certainly the prohibitive front-runner with the Huck out. Similar to Pawlenty, he has his own moderate demons. Interestingly, he was able to successfully walk back prior support for abortion rights and gay rights with ease in 2008, but is having a hard time explaining his support for a health care package in his home state that is very similar to the national reform enacted by the Democrats. Still, an attractive former businessman with loads of political experience and keen intellectual skills is a rare enough commodity, if I were placing a bet today on the GOP nod, it would be Romney.

Rick Santorum - the stridently socially conservative former Senator from Pennsylvania will attract some support from die-hards, but mainstream GOP members realize that he is as unelectable as they come in a general election race. I think Santorum will probably fade quickly after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Herman Cain - the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and talk-radio host lit up the other candidates in the first Presidential debate. An excellent speaker and debater, Cain will be fun to watch, but nobody expects a political newbie to be in serious contention for the White House.

Could Be Running
Mitch Daniels - the exit of Huckabee from the stage certainly opens up a door to the well-respected conservative Indiana Governor. Daniels is beloved among the party faithful, although not particularly charismatic for a guy hoping to tame a national stage. He will struggle with name recognition initially (he is virtually unknown outside of political circles and his home state), but I expect him to be a contender if he runs.

Donald Trump - America's favorite blow-hard real estate mogul has already jumped the shark in my opinion. If I were betting, I don't think Donald will run, I the he just likes the attention. And when it comes right down to it, it's hard even for conservatives to take this guy seriously.

Sarah Palin - her star is fading fast as legitimate, in-office politicians like Michelle Bachman and Rand Paul take up the tea-party mantle. She is also pretty well hated outside of the GOP. I can't see why she would want to run and suspend her lucrative media empire.

Michelle Bachman - the darling of the Tea Party movement gets a lot of love from a small cross-section of the GOP. She may run to make a point, but she isn't a serious contender.

Not Running
Basically, every other Republican in the US. Huckabee passed. So did Bobby Jindal. Rising stars Chris Christie and Marco Rubio have both declined as well. So did Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

The field is starting to take form. There are a dozen or so debates to take place over the summer, fall and winter, which should help some of the lesser-knowns level the playing field with the better-known candidates. It will be a fun ride.

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