GOP 2012 Pres. Rankings -- Updated!

It's time to reveal the new rankings of the 25 most likely 2012 Republican Presidential nominees -- updating from my rankings entering 2009, and at the end of February. And get excited, there's a new number one!

It's been an active couple of months for the Presidential wannabes, as they have shuffled to position themselves on the federal stimulus package, the federal budget, the Tax Day Tea Parties, and anything else that provides a platform for posturing.

Then there's the defection of Arlen Specter, who left because GOP primary voters wanted him gone. So... if you're sucking up to GOP primary voters, what's your response? (And if you're hoping to win the GOP Pres. nomination by winning the conservative primary votes, do you really want to expand the party to include more moderates?)

And, we have the announcement today of a new PR effort being launched by GOP leaders, which they're calling the National Council For A New America. It seems they're planning to do a national tour of sorts, beginning with an event this weekend in Virginia. A bunch of potential 2012 candidates are involved.

That includes, naturally, Mitt Romney, who has become a whirlwind one-man travelling band, appearing at fundraisers and functions coast-to-coast. Romney (who has said in interviews that he and Ann now live full-time in their Southern California home, but they have not established it as their primary residence so as to avoid paying taxes there) has been in DC, New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Boston (twice) just this month that I know of.

I dunno, if my wife had MS, and had a lumpectomy to remove early-stage cancer four months ago, I would probably cut back my travel a little -- but hey, I guess Mitt cares about his country more than I do.

Anyway, on to the new rankings! (Previous ranking in parentheses.)

1) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. He's pushed a hard line on debt and taxes -- and will likely get to veto a tax increase, which is always a plus -- while not drifting too close to the world of the weirdos. He's never going to be the movement-conservative darling that Sanford is, but at this point I see the business/finance money going here. That makes him the Most Likely Governor, which makes him my new #1. Important caveat: if he declares for re-election in 2010, he'll plummet on this list -- there's no way he can campaign for Minnesota votes while remaining in good conservative graces. (2)

2) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South Carolina. Did you notice that DeMint beat out everyone -- other than web-favorite Ron Paul -- in the NPR March Madness GOP 2012 contest? No? Well, that's what I'm here for. The National Taxpayers Union, Club for Growth, and American Conservative Union all recently gave him a perfect 100% on their latest scorecards. And, he claimed credit for Specter's defection, saying that it happened right after DeMint informed him that he planned to endorse Pat Toomey in the primary. (3)

3) Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. He jumped on board the Tea Party train, made himself the public face of state-level stimulus opposition, praised the "state sovereignty" movement, and got a ton of good press in the right-wing media/blogosphere. But, it feels like he's teetering awfully close to a point of being too wacko, even for the GOP. (1)

4) Mike Pence, US Representative from Indiana. My dark horse has started getting publicly mentioned as a potential Pres. candidate, and his popularity and name-recognition among the conservative base is growing rapidly. He's reportedly authoring the House GOP's alternative climate change/energy bill, which should be a highly entertaining read. (4)

5) John Thune, US Senator from South Dakota. Thune recently went to Iowa, which is a big thumbs-up in itself. But he went there to fundraise for Congressman Steve King, who is a favorite of Iowa conservatives -- and who just might end up being the state's governor during the '12 caucus cycle. You betcha Thune is top-five material. (5)

6) Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts. I keep thinking he's not really planning to run in 2012, but man does he act like he's running. And man oh man does he hate unions. Exciting news: Mitt says he's almost finished writing his next book, about where the country stands and where we need to go. (6)

7) Jon Huntsman Jr., Governor of Utah. He's done an outstanding job of positioning himself as a national face for a more moderate, pragmatic, electable Republican Party -- kind of a Constitutionally-eligible Schwarzenegger, or a Charlie Crist without the gay rumors. Huntsman even got himself dis-invited from an upcoming GOP event in Michigan, for endorsing same-sex civil unions. He's in great position -- if, by some bizarre series of unlikely phenomena, the GOP is ready to nominate someone like that in three years. (10)

8) Kay Bailey Hutchison, US Senator from Texas. Thanks to Rick "I'm taking my state and going home" Perry (see below), Hutchison will probably become governor with her conservative cred intact, and while looking like a relatively moderating force in the party. (7)

9) John Ensign, US Senator from Nevada. Ensign makes a huge move up on the list, as he made significant moves toward establishing a national image -- and got a great write-up as a potential candidate by WaPo's Chris "The Fix" Cillizza. He's rock-solid conservative enough, geographically perfect, and respectable enough to raise the dough from the money crowd. And, he's visiting Iowa soon! (21)

10) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas. Still sliding down the list, after debuting at #4. But don't count him out. Yes, he's a nutty right-winger, but we knew that long before his recent suggestion that his state might secede. The important thing is, if he comes back to beat Hutchison in the primary, he's a top-three candidate in 2012. (8)

11) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. He sure keeps his name out there, that's for sure. He's part of this National Council for a New America, so he's not going away anytime soon. (9)

12) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana. He's been stuck in an ugly, contentious budget battle -- like many governors -- but has kept it mostly out of the national press. Once that's behind him, expect him to start travelling and boosting his national image. (13)

13) Eric Cantor, US Representative from Virginia. He's become the de facto leader of the House Republicans, and his ambition clearly knows no bounds. I suspect that instead of running for President, his plan is to sabotage John Boehner, take over as House Minority Leader, and enjoy life as the king of that small little world. (11)

14) Jon Kyl, US Senator from Arizona. Laying relatively low, quite sensibly -- but poked his head up to oppose Kathleen Sebelius's HHS nomination. Picking his spots, biding his time. (12)

15) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi. He's taking a lead role in this National Council project, and seems to be gaining stature as the party's grown-up -- especially as Republicans can now contrast Barbour's tenure as RNC chair to the current Michael Steele fiasco. (16)

16) Bob Corker, US Senator from Tennessee. He's ornery and really, really hates abortions -- I think he'll remind New Hampshire Republicans a lot of Sen. Bob Smith. He recently got mentioned as a "next-generation" star of the GOP by a WaPo journo, and it would play great if he really decides to not run for re-election in 2010 because he just can't stand Washington politics. (20)

17) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House in Georgia. I don't think he has any interest in being an actual candidate for President, but he loves the spotlight so much, he's apt to run just for the attention, and accidentally win. (15)

18) Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security. Still waiting for his pro-life conversion, so why the move up the list? Because Pennsylvania GOP party leaders, who are now desperate to beat Specter -- but know that Toomey can't do it -- are going to recruit Ridge to run. And if he pulls off the victory in this crucial state, the national party just might realize how good a candidate he'd be nationally. (23)

18) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. Now he's acting like he really is planning to run. I don't get his game plan at all, but he has to be considered. (22)

19) Paul Ryan, US Representative from Wisconsin. He's talked about as a potential 2012 VP, but if the field is weak, why wait? Getting a lot of ink and screen time lately. (--)

20) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Very clearly working his way back into the public sphere. We'll know he's interested if he starts criticizing his brother's record in carefully targeted instances. (25)

21) Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida. Reportedly will announce for 2010 Senate race, which to me says he's thinking the GOP won't be ready for a moderate candidate until 2016. (18)

22) Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. Dear MTV, I have three words for you: "Real World: Wasilla." You're welcome. (19)

24) Dick Kempthorne, former Interior Secretary. Sure, his department was a fiasco when he ran it. We prefer to look forward, not back. (17)

25) Asa Hutchison, former US Representative from Arkansas. OK, this is pure speculation based on absolutely nothing, but he's putting himself out there on crime, drugs, and border security issues, he's got the right resume, he's got the right insider fundraising connections, and he's pretty much fine on all the issues. So what if he lost a governor's race? That was in a state that elected Bill Clinton governor, for cripes sake. (--)

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