Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said last week on CNBC that he is “absolutely” open to considering another presidential run in 2012. That tells you all you need to know about the fluidity of the GOP‘s coming nomination contest.
Not that Giuliani is likely to be a serious candidate. The odds are low that he’ll even run. Given the ineptitude of his 2008 candidacy and his relatively liberal views on abortion and gay rights in a party that, if anything, has become even more conservative in recent years, it’s difficult to see a path to the nomination for him. But with the field so unsettled, anybody can dream.
Giuliani isn’t the only long-shot Republican whose musings about a possible 2012 run underscore the challenge facing party activists, strategists and elected officials trying to divine the likely nominee. Over the Christmas holiday, Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China and a former governor of Utah, suggested to a Newsweek reporter that he might be thinking of running in 2012.
President Obama couldn’t resist poking fun at that notion during last week’s press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao. With Huntsman sitting in the front row, Obama was asked about a possible challenge from his ambassador. Obama was clearly ready for the question. Praising Huntsman’s work, he said with a grin, “I’m sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.”
Republicans’ confusion about their presidential nomination contest runs deep: They are confused about who may actually run for it and confused about who might be their strongest candidate against an incumbent president who looks more formidable today than he did just three months ago.
Excluding a handful of almost certain candidates – including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum – the Republican field is full of question marks.
The list of possibilities starts with the Republican who attracts more attention than almost everyone else combined, former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Beyond Palin, however, there are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and perhaps a few others. Businessman Herman Cain has formed an exploratory committee. And there are also those who have said no but who still generate speculation, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
National polls offer little guidance on the likely nominee’s identity, although they are heavily reported and closely analyzed for clues. The latest Washington Post-ABC News survey put the pecking order this way: Huckabee, Palin and Romney bunched between 20 percent and 16 percent among registered Republican voters, with Gingrich fourth at 10 percent. The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll showed the order as follows: Romney, Huckabee, Palin and Gingrich, with their numbers almost identical to those of the Post-ABC News poll.
National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, a shrewd analyst of coalitions and demographics, describes the coming GOP race as a variation on the establishment vs. conservative theme. He calls it managers vs. populists. Romney epitomizes the managers, along with people such as Daniels and Barbour. Palin and Huckabee are the prime examples of the populists. Gingrich, Pawlenty and Thune fall somewhere in between.
The Republican Party may be more ideologically homogenous than it’s been in the past, but there are clear fissures that will shape the nomination campaign. The Post-ABC News poll showed significant divisions along income lines. Palin and Huckabee were disproportionately popular among white voters with household incomes below $50,000, while Romney did disproportionately better among those with incomes above $50,000. The same held true for education: Palin and Huckabee were even more popular with Republicans who lack a college degree, Romney even more popular among college graduates.
Washington Post Staff Writer