Republicans still hoping that another candidate will jump into the U.S. presidential race and give the party a better chance of defeating President Barack Obama in 2012 may need to get over it.
Now that Texas Governor Rick Perry has thrown his hat in -- and become a favorite -- chances are growing slimmer that another contender will jump in and make a splash.
With state-by-state nominating contests starting early next year, it will be very difficult for a newcomer to raise the money and set up a campaign apparatus to defeat other Republican candidates who have been in the race for months.
And, barring a major stumble by leading contenders Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Perry, most analysts expect a leader will emerge in the field not far into 2012.
"Between Romney, Perry and Bachmann, they have a lot of the current buzz and the current spectrum of the electable Republican Party covered," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the independent Rothenberg Political Report.
"If there were a perfect candidate, they would have been in the race already," he said.
Some Republicans want a new candidate because they feel Romney has failed to generate excitement, and that the former Massachusett governor's political record -- particularly his state healthcare plan in Massachusetts that was a model for Obama's healthcare overhaul -- is too liberal for conservatives.
They worry that Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Bachmann, both strongly outspoken fiscal and religious conservatives, will struggle to attract the independent voters the Republican candidate will need to win the general election.
"That leaves a large part of the Republican middle that's essentially open and people sort of yearn for a consensus candidate," said Joe Schmuckler, an investment manager who was chief financial officer for John McCain's 2008 campaign.
Several names have come up repeatedly as possible new Republican contenders, but most either insist they are not running or come with issues that would complicate their campaigns should they choose to run.
PRESSURE ON CHRISTIE?
The name of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, 48, comes up most often, although he took office only last year and has repeatedly said he is not ready to be president.
Many analysts consider Christie the person most likely to be pulled into the nomination race if no strong favorite emerges in the coming months.
Christie, known for a brash style and a low-tax, lean-government agenda, said again last week that he is not running after a report, later retracted, that he had set up focus groups to assess his chances on the national stage.
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan has reportedly been encouraged to run by top Republicans, and is said to be considering it. But the 41-year-old is best known nationally for an effort to overhaul the government's Medicare insurance plan for older Americans that drew widespread protests.
Within the Republican Party, Ryan would face heat for his past willingness to cross party lines. He voted for Obama's auto industry bailout and the $700 billion TARP bank bailout program reviled by many conservatives.
Marco Rubio, 40, a Republican senator from Florida, is another name that has come up, but he was also elected only in 2010.
If he joins the race, his career trajectory -- running for president after just a short career in the U.S. Senate and a stint in the state legislature -- will look remarkably similar to Obama's.
All three men's lack of experience would make them vulnerable to attacks by rivals who blame the country's economic woes and other problems on Obama's inexperience.
They also have years ahead in which they can run for national office, and at least in 2016 they would not have to face a strong Democratic incumbent.
Dan Ripp, president of Bradley Woods & Co. in New York, who advises investors on government policy, said maybe people are learning a lesson that a candidate is not ready for presidency "just because you've got a great bio and you've got great rhetoric and you inspire hope and change. Experience counts for something."
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani also are said to be considering the race.
Palin has toyed with a presidential bid for months, but, while she has a core of support among Republicans, the 2008 vice presidential nominee is seen as a polarizing figure and opinion polls put her behind Obama in a hypothetical race.
Giuliani, New York's former mayor, made a run for president in 2008 which failed despite raising $55 million, and his position on social issues is to the left of most Republicans. (Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)
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