Handicapping the 2012 Republican field

Senator John Ensign of Nevada is coming to northwest Iowa today for stops at Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux Center and a famous ice cream shop in Le Mars before he delivers a speech in Sioux City.

The American Future Fund invited Ensign as part of a lecture series, and American Future Fund spokesman Tim Albrecht spoke to Radio Iowa about him:

Albrecht describes the 51-year-old Ensign as a "strong" conservative.

"I think that Senator Ensign will be able to introduce himself to a group of active conservatives who are thirsty for a new voice, a new person, to really pick up the banner and carry it on their behalf," Albrecht says.

Are conservatives "thirsty for a new voice," as in someone who hasn't already run for president? The Republican Party has a history of nominating presidential candidates on their second or third try: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain.

Ensign looks like a fairly generic Republican to me. He would need to do something to distinguish himself in the next few years to avoid becoming the Sam Brownback or Tommy Thompson of 2012.

UPDATE: Ensign gave Iowa Politics an interview:

"I'm not running for president," said Ensign, who's chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "What I'm doing is raising my profile. I believe we need new voices and fresh voices in the Republican Party who can articulate a message of our core Republican principles."

More thoughts on likely Republican presidential candidates are after the jump.

Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech today at the U.S. Navy memorial. Click the link to read the full prepared text at The Heritage Foundation's blog. Last week Ben Smith of Politico asserted,

My instinct on the 2012 Republican field, with its crop of half-in-half-out governors, is that the people who are unambiguously angling for the job -- at this point, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee -- have a certain advantage.

And Romney, in particular, is continuing to do what you do if you're running for president: avoid cable overexposure and build an intellectual and policy infrastructure to lean on later.

Although I think Romney might have performed better against Barack Obama than McCain did, I find it hard to see a path to the 2012 nomination for him. I don't expect him to win Iowa, and he might not even compete seriously here. His 2008 Iowa campaign chairman, Doug Gross, predicted last November,

"We've gone so far to the social right, particularly in caucus attendees, that unless you meet certain litmus tests you have a very difficult time competing in Iowa," said Doug Gross, the party's 2002 gubernatorial nominee. "I think you'll have some candidates who won't compete here unless they perceive that's somehow changed."

David Roederer, who headed John McCain's Iowa campaign, agreed."I would not encourage a moderate to come right now and participate in the caucuses," Roederer said. "It is a danger for the party, and it is a danger for the future of the caucuses."

Gross expressed his concern somewhat differently during a May 22 appearance on Iowa Public Television:

if just a handful of social conservatives dominate our caucuses there will be candidates who skip Iowa, that will not be good for the Iowa caucuses and I'm hopeful that won't happen.

If Romney couldn't win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 as a prohibitive favorite for most of the previous year, I don't see him coming from behind to win in 2012. He could try skipping Iowa, but he didn't win the New Hampshire primary in 2008 either.

Mike Huckabee is keeping up his national profile with a weekly show on the Fox network. He's also keeping up his contacts in Iowa and will headline a June 10 fundraiser for 2010 gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats in Spirit Lake. I'll be interested to see how many of his 2008 caucus supporters stick with him if he runs again.

Huckabee continues to advocate for the "Fair Tax" that would replace income and other taxes with a 30 percent sales tax (yes, 30 percent, not the 23 percent figure used by supporters). If he remains the only candidate in the Republican field to support the Fair Tax, that will help him in the conservative grassroots.

However, I think the business wing of the Republican Party will make sure Huckabee never wins a presidential nomination. A blogger supporting Mitt Romney compiled this incredibly long list of prominent conservatives who opposed Huckabee in late 2007. I don't think many on that list would come around to supporting Huckabee by 2011. This document from the Club for Growth lays out the corporate Republican case against Huckabee. I'm not surprised they can't stand the guy.

The business wing of the GOP might not always get its favorite presidential candidate, but I believe they will have the power to stop their least favorite. Which is to say that I don't see strong prospects for Huckabee.

I'm inclined to agree with Jonathan Singer, who expects"some strong late-breaking entrants" in the GOP field. Who might that be?

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is coming to Iowa on June 25 for a Republican Party fundraiser. I can't imagine him ever gaining traction in a presidential race.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he's not running. Even if he changes his mind, it will be hard for him to juggle running for re-election as governor in 2011 with a presidential candidacy.

I haven't heard much lately about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's plans for 2012. She drew big crowds during her Iowa stops in the fall of 2008. I would expect her and Huckabee to be competing for the same type of Republican voters.

Newt Gingrich has admitted he's thinking about running in 2012. He has a huge fundraising operation at his American Solutions organization and has kept a high profile on national news and analytical programs. Gingrich has been loudly calling Judge Sotomayor a racist, probably to bolster his credentials with the conservative base; Senate Republicans will almost certainly fail to stop her from being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The policy agenda Gingrich pushes through American Solutions suggests that he would keep a strong focus on economic (not social) issues as a presidential candidate. It's just as well, since I don't think a man who's dumped two wives would get far campaigning on morality. But I'm skeptical that the Republican base, especially in Iowa, is ready for a presidential candidate who downplays social issues.

What did I get wrong, and who did I leave out? Step right up and post your own comments and speculation.

Tags: 2012 elections, Bobby Jindal, GOP, Haley Barbour, Iowa, John Engisn, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, newt gingrich, president, Republican Party, Sarah Palin (all tags)

Comments

10 Comments

Re: Handicapping the 2012 Republican field

You left out a couple of names-Tim Pawlenty and Mark Sanford.  Pawlenty's a dud I think, I just don't see him getting any traction.  Sandford though is becoming a real darling of the right and could very well take off.

by ARDem 2009-06-01 11:05AM | 0 recs
I tend to agree....

Sanford and Palin will fight for the base, Huckabee is in the mix but I think the base doesn't trust Huck, as he seems to actually have a sense of empathy for the poor, whereas the base is simply haters, racial haters, haters of the poor, haters of women.

I think Sanford and Palin fight it out for the base and Mitt goes for the NeoCon and Country Club monied vote.

Mitt's getting old, he can't wait, but Pawlenty, Huntsman etc seem to be figuring it's better to run against a non-incumbent/non VP in 2016 then Obama in 2012.

by WashStateBlue 2009-06-01 11:16AM | 0 recs
GOP Nominee Probably Already Well Known

To win the GOP nomination you have to already be well known. Most GOP nominees were previous second place finishers, such as Reagan, Bush, Dole and McCain. For Reagan, the third time was the charm as he had previously ran in 1968 and 1976. George W. Bush is the exception and won the first time around, but he was the son of a president so he was well known. Thus, expect Huckabee or Romney to be the next GOP nominee. The true fight will be to see who will be the front runner in 2016.

by Zzyzzy 2009-06-01 11:42AM | 0 recs
don't forget that republicans nominated mccain...

to run against hillary, not barack.  mccain had the nomination wrapped up before republicans even started to think that obama would be the nominee.  next time, they know who the democratic nominee will be...

by bored now 2009-06-01 12:30PM | 0 recs
I don't know

Before McCain's nomination even became possible, upon winning New Hampshire, Obama had already won Iowa.

Republicans nominated McCain, I think, because he was the only one who could win...no matter who he faced.

by DTOzone 2009-06-01 03:26PM | 0 recs
I disagree with both of you.

McCain's victory was a fluke.  He was the only one left standing after everyone else imploded and Romney and Huckabee split the conservative base in the Super Tuesday primaries.

by ARDem 2009-06-01 05:21PM | 0 recs
mccain's nomination was pretty much inevitable...

before 2008 even started.  i don't recall what the national polls were like in december of 2007, but i'm willing to bet that they suggested hillary would be the nominee.

iowa had nothing to do with mccain's nomination, on either side of the aisle.  republicans in florida fervently believed that hillary would be the nominee and they openly talked about how mccain matched up better against hillary than any other republican in the race.  iowa did not alter that assessment...

by bored now 2009-06-02 06:27AM | 0 recs
McCain looked dead in the water

before Iowa. Giuliani was the one Republicans thought could beat Hillary...McCain wasn't even a factor until Obama won Iowa.

The national lead was fluctuating between Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee. It looked like Huckabee would take Iowa, Romney would win New Hampshire and Nevada, Huckabee in South Carolina and Florida was up on the air because of Giuliani.

After Iowa, suddenly McCain gained ground in New Hampshire and overtook Romney. It became clear that the conservatives were coalescing behind Huckabee, who was deemed unelectable, and Giuliani wouldn't make it, so they needed the other more moderate Republican to win...McCain.

by DTOzone 2009-06-02 03:45PM | 0 recs
historical revisionism may appear interesting...

so i'll merely note that giuliani pulled out of iowa to concentrate on florida.  where he never gained any traction.

i'll leave the rest to your myth-making.  i'm interested in winning elections, not redefining them...

by bored now 2009-06-08 02:40AM | 0 recs
Haley Barbour should have great traction!

Barbour got fantastic press following Katrina.  He is a southern governor with excellent national connections as a former chair of the RNC.  He has executive branch experience with the Bushes.
He is a smart guy and comes across as one also.

I think Barbour and Romney would have the best chances to get the nomination.

by Thaddeus 2009-06-01 07:08PM | 0 recs

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