GOP 2012 Pres. Rankings, Updated 11/13

I'm two weeks late in producing my every-two-months rankings of the likely 2012 Republican nominees for President. (I would offer as my excuse all the local political races I've had to cover, but most of you already know it's the cyber-slacking!)

Anyway, no new #1, as Tim Pawlenty keeps doing all the right things -- including, next month, the first major New Hampshire visit by a serious '12 contender. (Also Iowa, and early next year Alabama, which may be a key early Southern state, espectially if Jim DeMint runs and negates the South Carolina prominence.)

Most interesting, though, was Pawlenty's decision to step into the NY-23 fiasco, with a late endorsement of conservative spoiler Doug Hoffman. Shows how important kowtowing to the movement conservatives will be, even for a mainstreamy guy like Pawlenty.

The key thing to remember about the GOP, as it currently stands, is that the money and infrastructure is primarily controlled by a set of business and party-infrastructure elites, while the votes are largely controlled by a bunch of movement-conservative ideologues. You need a fair share of both to win. One thing that's happening now is that the elites and insiders are looking for candidates who are acceptable to them, and who they think can win over the conservatives. 2010 will be, to a large extent, about that pageant. And Pawlenty is thus far playing it beautifully.

Anyway, let's get to the rankings! (Previous ranking is given in parentheses.)

1) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. Launched his Leadership PAC -- "Freedom First" -- with lots of inside-the-beltway support, along with blatant nods to the Tea Party set (guest speakers Jon Voight and Cliff from Cheers!). All systems go. (1)

2) Mike Pence, US Representative from Indiana. If someone's going to win the nomination without help from the elites and insiders, it's likely to be Pence. He's a huge favorite among the talk-radio and blogosphere crowd, and has been steadily upping his profile. He has as good a chance as anyone to win nearby Iowa (better than Southerners like DeMint), create a two-person race with the "establishment" candidate (Pawlenty, Thune, Romney, or whoever), and then let his allies on the right loudly destroy that opponent. (3)

3) John Thune, US Senator from South Dakota. Thune is getting a lot of Presidential buzz, from outside of conservative circles. That's exactly what he needs: he has lots of conservative bona fides, so he needs the David Brooks crowd to be touting him. (4)

4) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South Carolina. I'm dropping DeMint, because I just don't see him doing anything to convince the elites and insiders. His cred among the movement conservatives is already beyond reproach -- and he adds to it almost every day, by endorsing every right-winger challenging a relative moderate Republican. But I'm not seeing him build a path to the nomination. (2)

5) Mitt Romney, former Governor from Massachusetts. Romney appears to be pursuing -- wisely, in my opinion -- a "blue state" strategy. That is, give up on winning southern and midwestern Republican primaries, and instead capture the nomination by winning primaries in the northeast, the industrial north, the west coast, the southwest, and maybe Florida. Hence helping Christie win New Jersey was a big deal to him -- as was not pissing off New York Republican committee members like the Scozzafava-bashing Pawlentys and DeMints. But is it possible to win the Republican nomination without winning any delegates South of the Mason-Dixon line? (5)

6) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi. Imagine, it could have been Republican Governors Association chairman Mark Sanford taking credit for the NJ and VA victories, boosting his status among the GOP insiders and elites as their potential conservative-movement-friendly 2012 horse. Alas, it was not to be; Barbour inherited the job and finds himself on everybody's list of 2012 possibilities. (7)

7) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas. Polls continue to show him in good shape to beat back the Kay Bailey Hutchison intraparty re-election challenge. Nobody (other than me) seems to be speculating that Perry's likely to jump into the Presidential scrum immediately after winning a new term (if he does) -- but of course he's not going to be spreading those rumors in the middle of a re-election campaign. I can't imagine why he wouldn't run. (6)

8) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana. Unlike Perry, Daniels gets himself mentioned in every single article written anywhere about potential 2012 GOP candidates. Funny, because he said he's not going to run.... (9)

9) Jon Kyl, US Senator from Arizona. After US News & World Report  put him on a list of conservatives looking to run, Kyl emphatically insisted that he would absolutely, positively not. It's good to get that first denial under your belt. (11)

10) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. When does he schedule his national relaunch? I'm still skeptical that he'll run in '12, but there's certainly room for him. (8)

11) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Hung himself on the cross of Scozzafava, and was instantly unfriended by the conservative blogosphere. But it may have helped him among the GOP insiders. (10)

12) Eric Cantor, US Representative from Virginia. Maybe if the GOP makes big gains in the House in 2010 he hangs around hoping to be Speaker some day; if not, he jumps in for 2012. (13)

13) Bob Corker, US Senator from Tennessee. His no vote on the "Franken Amendment" doesn't necessarily mean that he's pro-rape... I tell you, this guy is crazy enough to run.(14)

14) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Still tiptoing into the political field, with nobody going berzerk about the horrible possibility of another Bush Presidency; he sent his sons out to fundraise for Marco Rubio without incident. Steadily creeping up my list... (16)

15) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. On the patented Gore Scale, his waistline is registering a "not a candidate" -- but he is now openly talking about losing weight, so we may be seeing the tide turning toward "possibly a candidate." (19)

16) Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska. I understand that in the book she has some negative things to say about the news media's coverage of her. (18)

17) Rick Santorum, former US Senator from Pennsylvania. Has essentially declared himself a prospective candidate, and everyone's going along with the idea for now. Not sure either the elites or the voters want him anymore. (--)

18) Paul Ryan, US Representative from Wisconsin. He's bobbed on and off this list, hitting #19 in April. He's got an awfully good fundraising operation. (--)

19) Dirk Kempthorne, former Interior Secretary. Still quiet, but still rumored. (20)

20) Chuck Grassley, US Senator from Iowa. Or, maybe crazy Steve King from Iowa. Let'sl stick with Chuck for now. (22)

21) Kay Bailey Hutchison, US Senator from Texas. The more unlikely it looks that she'll win the gubernatorial primary, the better she'll look as a national candidate when she wins! Right? (15)

22) Michelle Bachmann, US Representative from Minnesota. Definitely crazy enough to run -- whether or not she gets voted out of office in 2010. I'm not sure where she'll raise the money, but I suppose God will provide. Remember, there's a whole new Joe Wilson 'You lie!' Rule of fundraising in effect. (--)

23) Lindsey Graham, US Senator from South Carolina. He may very well get in to fight for the soul of the Republican Party -- and it's possible that the movement conservatives will bolt for a third party rather than vote in the GOP primaries, leaving him a clear path to victory. Could happen. (17)

24) Marco Rubio, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He made my list back in June, then dropped off last time, and now he's back and better than ever! He's practically the Obama of the right already. (--)

25) Joe Scarborough, former Congressman from Florida. Well, I had Hannity at #25 last time, so when I saw that Mark McKinnon has Scarborough in his Top Ten for 2012, I figured I'd swap out the talk-show hosts. I bet Hannity's next book sells better, though. (--)

Dropping off the list: Jim Douglass, Jon Huntsman, Sean Hannity



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