This past week, I've seen or read plenty of news analyses suggesting that the Republicans have a weak field of presidential hopefuls for 2012.
I believe that many of the potential candidates who might seek the GOP nomination have strategically strong paths to the White House, assuming that President Barack Obama is still vulnerable next year.
Last week in this column, I put forth an explanation as to why Newt Gingrich is a stronger political force than many imagine. This week, let's consider the Republicans' other potential major candidates for the White House.
For starters, there's Mitt Romney. Some will have it that his expected candidacy is fatally flawed from the start, thanks to the largely unsuccessful healthcare reform that he championed when he was governor of Massachusetts. Anyone who believes this is simply out of touch with current public opinion.
Yes, the 2010 elections were a stark rebuke of "Obamacare." But Romney, to his credit, has already admitted that his best intentions on healthcare in his home state didn't work as he'd hoped.
Romney is handsome and charismatic. He knows how to run an organization and already has a voter base from his presidential run in 2008. In my mind, he's the early front-runner for his party's nomination in 2012.
Of course, some people view Romney as a bit too moderate. Others are troubled by his Mormon religion. Still others think he's just a little too smooth. For these folks, there's Mike Huckabee, who is probably the most genuine person potentially in the race.
But Huckabee is more than just a folksy good guy. He's also smart. He may be best known right now for his gig on Fox News, and he may himself believe that his presidential chances could look better after 2012. But if he does run this time, he will become the new front-runner. More, his chances to win the critical early caucus and primary contests in Iowa and South Carolina would be quite good.
Everyone seems to love to hate Sarah Palin; everyone, that is, except for the hardcore Republican base — and yours truly. Her devoted following gives her a head start if she decides to run. And for political instincts, this woman makes Hillary look like she is standing still.
In some ways, Palin reminds me of female version of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The press dubbed him incompetent and unelectable. The people found him magnetic and about two tons smarter than he was given credit for.
Keep a watchful eye on Palin. She learned the ropes during her vice-presidential campaign as John McCain's running mate. My only advice to her would be to stop putting down every other Republican. Otherwise, she's good to go if she decides to run.
I have tremendous respect for columnist and pundit George Will. He says 2012 will be primarily a year for governors to emerge as viable presidential candidates. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana are two Republicans who immediately come to mind. But my top choice would be Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. I knew him earlier in my career. He is a "people's person" if I've ever seen one.
He's been a lobbyist, yes, but so what? These days, it seems everyone is hawking influence, either in person or through books, CDs, nonprofit organizations and so on.
Barbour's biggest drawback would be his syrupy Southern accent. (Sorry, Haley, but they think you and I are rubes because of our accents and dialects.) But supporters and foes alike would be well-advised to pay less attention to Barbour's twang than to his second-to-none smarts. Watch out for him as a potential dark-horse Republican nominee.
Then there is Donald Trump. I know, know — few in the political world are taking him seriously. But I do. The man is brilliant, and he knows how to organize and raise money.
His biggest weakness is that he has never been involved in tough national politics. Trust me, Mr. Trump, presidential politics makes the New York business scene look like a kid's birthday party. Trump would need the assistance and expertise of veteran politicos were he to run. But he has huge name identification, and that puts him halfway to winning already.
Whoever the GOP's nominee turns out to be, the biggest mistake the party could make would be to take Obama and his chances of winning too lightly. The president is articulate, and he's likeable to many independents and Democrats.
He's also been moving swiftly (and wisely) to the political middle of the road. That could enable him to again win moderate-to-conservative states such as North Carolina and Florida.
Soon, the presidential race will begin in earnest. To my mind, the Republican field of potential candidates is at least as strong as it was in 2008.
Oh, and consider this afterthought: Ron Paul. He won't win the GOP nomination, but that chunk of support that he would take away from other conservatives in Iowa and other early primary states could have a huge impact on the final outcome.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.
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