The other day I did my latest rankings of the most likely 2012 GOP Presidential nominees -- an exercise I've been doing roughly every two months since the end of 2008. Now some upstarts have decided to join me with their first rankings of the cycle: Chris "The Fix" Cillizza at WaPo, and the National Journal's Hotline. Also, there's been a fair amount of comment about such rankings. I would say that while the names on the lists are fairly constant, there's clearly a big difference in how I see the race compared to some of those others. Let's examine, shall we?
Mitt-Mania. Both the Fix and Hotline lists put Mitt Romney in their top slots. I have him at a lowly #7. I have written a lot about the Barnstormin' Mormon -- see this feature on the "New and Improved Romney" from early this year -- and I'll say again what I've been saying since early 2006: I don't believe a slick, double-talking Northern businessman (and Mormon to boot) can win a Republican nominating contest south of the Mason-Dixon line. Romney's people have argued to me that Southern Republicans have a particular tendency to vote for the candidate who is 'next in line,' which is clearly Romney. I agree with the premise, and it was one reason why I continued to predict throughout 2007 that those voters would eventually come back to McCain. But that was perhaps the last gasp of that rule of thumb, helped along by a very weak field of alternatives, and a Southern admiration for McCain's military service. I don't think they'll come to Mitt. In my opinion, the one thing that maybe gives Romney a path is if Sarah Palin runs. That could do two things for Romney. First, it could take a big chunk of the religious-conservative vote off the table -- votes that are tough for Romney anyway, and might otherwise be up for grabs for Pawlenty, Barbour, Perry, etc. Second, the fear of Palin getting the nomination could prompt the GOP establishment to coalesce quickly around one candidate to beat her, and Romney could be in a position to be that guy.
Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich... really? The Fix has Palin at #2, Gingrich at #6, and Huckabee at #8; Hotline, too, has all three in their top 10. I have Huckabee at #13, Palin #17, Gingrich #22. I can't understand why anybody seriously thinks Gingrich will run -- he obviously puffs up the idea of a campaign to sell product -- but I really don't see how he can win. Huckabee would be a legit threat if this was going to be a low-interest race with a weak field, where he could make it Huck v. Mitt from the start, but it won't be. As for Palin, my gut feeling has been that she's too clever to run (and risk damaging her brand, like Giuliani did), which is one reason she rates so low with me. But I also don't see how she convinces anyone beyond her core supporters that she's Presidential material -- minds are firmly set on one side or the other of that divide. As a candidate, she begins as a huge presence, but she has nowhere to go but down.
Try Pence, Perry, DeMint. To me, these are the three most likely choices, not the FOX News trio, to claim the "not the
establishment choice" mantle, and ultimately go head-to-head with
whichever establishment choice emerges from
Romney/Pawlenty/Thune/Barbour etc. I've had these three consistently in or near my top 5 since my first list. The Fix has Pence 9th, and cheats on Perry and DeMint, saying he's not including them because they haven't expressed interest in running. Whatev. Hotline has them #8, #11, and #14 respectively. Pence does face the historical trend against House members making the big leap, so I understand why others have him a little lower than I do -- but man is that guy loved by the conservative radio gabbers and blogosphere in a way no other elected officeholder can touch. Underestimate Rick Perry at your peril, he's an outstanding pol who will combine establishment money with anti-establishment popularity. And DeMint is a national movement-conservative powerhouse.
Comeback Kids. Neither list touches Jeb Bush, who I think has a very real, if perhaps unlikely, path to the nomination as a late-entry savior. They also pass on Condoleezza Rice and Dan Quayle, both of whom have popped their heads up a little in the political sphere, and would be legit contenders on the off-chance that they run. My rankings tend to favor candidates like these -- as well as some newly-electeds like Pat Toomey and John Kasich -- who are a long-shot for running but would stand a serious chance of winning, rather than those like Santorum, Pataki, or Gary Johnson, who obviously want to run but have no realistic chance of winning.