strategist Tim Albrecht
lists Sarah Palin as No.
1 for potential to win the
There are no breaks in the business.
Literally days after President
Obama was elected, speculation
started about potential challengers
for 2012. Louisiana Gov. Bobby
Jindal spoke in late November
to a conservative crowd of about
800 people at the Sheraton in
West Des Moines, feeding, of course,
notions about White House-sized
ambitions for the young GOP intellectual.
And Sarah Palin seems to be everywhere
with breathless analysts parsing
her latest verbal contortions.
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence
hit both coasts of Iowa just two
weeks ago. Mississippi Gov. Haley
Barbour headlined a major Republican
event at Hoyt Sherman Place in
Des Moines this summer. And U.S.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada) spoke
to an American Future Fund-organized
event in Sioux City. We can, of
course, forget about that last
While the 2012 caucuses are but
a glimmer on the horizon for most
Iowans, GOP party regulars are
well into the process of sorting
through potential candidates.
Based on recent interviews with
Republicans and observations on
two decades of covering Hawkeye
State politics, fourth-generation
Iowa newspaperman Douglas Burns
has compiled a ranking of the
Top 10 potential candidates for
the 2012 Republican presidential
caucuses in Iowa. No candidates
are formally announced — although
Palin may have given a surprise
speech between the Cityview deadline
for this story and its publication.
In December 2006, Burns penned
a column for his family’s paper,
The Carroll Daily Times Herald,
entitled, “Why Barack Obama can
win the Iowa Caucuses.” Later
in that election cycle, he was
among the first journalists in
the nation to spot the potential
celebrity in an unknown Alaska
governor. Two months before John
McCain selected Palin as his vice
presidential candidate, Burns
penned a column under the headline,
“Why McCain will select Palin
as running mate.”
The following is the list of Top
10 possible contenders as of today
for the Republican presidential
caucuses in Iowa in 2012.
1. Sarah Palin
can't gauge Alaska Gov. Sarah
Palin with conventional political
Her appeal with Iowa Republican
caucus-goers is precisely what
was on display with her resignation
just weeks ago — an absolute
thumb-nosing of establishment
politics, conventional thinking,
and on the day before the Fourth
of July when cable TV's heavy-hitting
lampooners were out of the office
on their first or fifth holiday
drinks no less. Yes, at first
blush, this resignation as governor,
with its epic nonsequiturs and
quality, hand-delivers ammunition
for Palin's fleet of detractors.
And as several journalists have
noted already, there does seem
to be a piece, perhaps a big one,
missing from this story. Will
she have to make an Appalachian-sized
amendment to the story as South
Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford did
just recently? If not, this may
work for Palin.
What made Palin popular with Iowans
was not her resume of experience
in Alaska. Those who cheered her
in Sioux City last fall, with
the most vocal applause for a
Republican I saw in Iowa in the
2008 presidential cycle, knew
little about it.
"There is little doubt that
she still carries with her enormous
admiration from the GOP grassroots,"
says Iowa Republican strategist
Tim Albrecht, Mitt Romney's communications
director in Iowa for the 2008
cycle and the founder of TheBeanWalker.com,
a conservative Web site The Washington
Post ranks as one of the top conservative
online venues in the state.
In an as-of-now ranking of the
chances of prospective candidates,
Albrecht, who is in free agent
status for 2012, lists Palin as
No. 1 for potential to win the
"The second she touches
down in Iowa, you can bet throngs
of supporters will be there to
greet her," Albrecht says.
"She very much excites the
base, and should she decide to
run, will generate enormous interest
and influence on the race."
The boys with the Blackberrys
tell us that Palin should have
stayed in Alaska to finish her
term (just her first at that).
Then perhaps, as she is only 45,
take a shot at the U.S. Senate.
Build some credentials, burnish
that resume. That would put Palin
on the same playing field as other
politicians, and by that gauge,
she loses. Palin is already a
political figure too large for
the office she held. That resignation
announcement speech was clumsy,
but what matters is how Iowa Republicans
will view her now. Will they hold
it against Palin that she quit
her job as Alaska governor to
become a national advocate, a
visible and likely effective one,
for their values?
"Sarah is still riding a
wave of popularity, although there's
literally no specifics from her
regarding policy and positions,"
says Tim Palmer, a Cedar Rapids
small businessman who is chairman
of the Linn County Republican
It's hard to think of someone
as a quitter when you see them
more on television and at party
dinners and in other venues than
you did before. Then there's this
to consider: Many in the national
media have this mistaken sense
that Iowa Republicans are seeking
a new identity, that they'll reach
out to moderates and carve out
more widely palatable positions.
Having been to two major GOP events
in just the last weeks in Iowa,
I get the distinct sense that
the party is growing smaller,
more insular, more angry —
and that it is likely to double-down
on a candidate like Palin —
damn the torpedoes and the media
and conventional wisdom —
and Gov. Haley Barbour who tried
the other night in Des Moines
(to no avail) to get rank-and-file
Republicans to accept new demographics
and dynamics of life in America.
Palin is exactly what many Republicans
want ~ a time machine. We know
that machine goes back, but whether
there's a switch in it for the
future remains to be seen.
Not all Republicans agree with
that, of course.
"A poll on my own Web site
seems to indicate many don't take
her seriously now as a federal
candidate," says Palmer,
who runs the popular HawkeyeReview.com.
In an unscientific poll on that
Web site, 36 percent of respondents
said Palin's surprise resignation
announcement on July 3 effectively
ended her political career while
another 25 percent wrote her off
The resignation definitely hurts,
says GOP insider Eric Woolson,
who served as former Arkansas
Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign
manager in the Republican's winning
2008 Iowa Caucuses bid. Woolson
is not affiliated with any presidential
camp for 2012 although Huckabee
has endorsed Sioux City businessman
Bob Vander Plaats' bid for governor.
Woolson is a consultant for Vander
Woolson says one problem for Palin
may be her apparent unwillingness
to take advice.
"I felt the McCain people
handled her all wrong," Woolson
That said, she may be gun shy
about putting her national reputation
in the hands of the Iowans she
would need to do well at the grassroots
"Candidates who compete
in Iowa are candidates who are
coachable," says Chase Martyn,
editor of Iowa Independent.com.
2. Jeb Bush
easy to dismiss the former governor
of Florida because of his last
But not so fast. Bush isn’t a
four-letter word in a political
sense with the GOP base in Iowa.
“Jeb Bush would be a terrific
candidate,” Albrecht says. “His
record in Florida is unmatched
by any governor in the country.
He made the tough decisions while
still remaining wildly popular.
Should he decide to run, he would
be a very formidable opponent
regardless of his last name.”
While Bush may tap into nostalgia
(remember we’re talking the base
here, western Iowa Republicans)
and be able to pull dynastic strings,
there are concerns.
Chief among them, Martyn says,
is a record that has its less-than-
“Bush expanded the state’s involvement
in education in ways that are
generally thought of as moderate,”
says Martyn, a native of Palm
Beach County, Fla.
GOP voters in Iowa may be put
off by that, he adds.
“They’re not going to see him
as the conservative savior they
thought he was,” Martyn said.
The reason I’m leapfrogging Bush
to the No. 2 pre-caucus ranking
is because I think he not only
has governing credentials, and
the obvious heft of a family name,
but ideas as well. In this month’s
issue of Esquire magazine, Bush
grants a remarkable interview
to Tucker Carlson, albeit a friendly
interrogator. In that story Jeb
Bush makes the case that the Democrats
and Obama won on tactics, that
there’s “no seismic shift.”
Bush provides a withering and
succinct criticism of Obama on
cap and trade and health care.
And he doesn’t sound like an apologist
for his brother.
Married for more than 30 years
to a Latina he met in Mexico City
while studying, Jeb Bush is perhaps
the Republican best-suited to
reach out to Hispanic voters,
a demographic the GOP needs a
healthy chunk of if the party
is to avoid the way of the Whigs
and survive into future generations.
Jeb Bush gets points for the
best denial of presidential ambition
I’ve heard from the potential
“Frankly, I don’t wake up each
day assuming I’m the solution
to life’s problems,” Bush told
Family redemption is an awfully
big motivation, though. And in
Bush, who remarkably is just 56,
Republicans may see a political
figure with the gravitas to stand
up to President Obama. And by
time the caucuses roll around
in 2012, the desire to defeat
Obama is likely to surpass fascination
with what are arguably novelty
acts like Palin and regionalized
characters like Huckabee.
3. Mike Huckabee
The southern-fried Huckabee pulled
off a win in Iowa over a much-better
funded Mitt Romney in 2008.The
question has to be asked: Until
another candidate beats him, doesn’t
he deserve the No. 1 slot? Fair
enough. But this isn’t a college
“He clearly is a very strong
candidate and has a clear message,”
says his former campaign manager
But Woolson isn’t sure Huckabee,
who is enjoying TV and radio work,
wants back in the game for 2012.
“That will be the question —
whether he’s willing to give up
the other things he’s doing right
now,” Woolson said.
Palmer thinks Huckabee would
clearly benefit from a strong
network of Bob Vander Plaats supporters.
Adds Albrecht, “He still has
a vibrant, excited community in
Iowa that supports him, and they
will be ready to work their hearts
out for him again.”
4. Mitt Romney
who supported Iowa Caucuses “silver
medalist” Romney in 2008, says
the former Massachusetts governor
and successful businessman should
be considered the favorite here
“I believe this next election
will hub around the economy,”
Palmer says. “For that reason
I feel Mitt is the candidate to
beat at this point. The concerns
he had about name recognition
from the past cycle are now a
moot point. If the Dow is below
8,000 and unemployment is above
10 percent in January 2012, then
I believe the pocketbook vote
will ordain our next candidate.”
The English betting site, Ladbrokes,
gives Romney the best odds of
any Republican at this point for
wining the White House in 2012.
He’s at 15 to 1 — which in horse-racing
parlance is what one calls a “good
price.” Obama stands at just under
2 to 1 on the Ladbrokes site.
We are, of course, just concerned
about Iowa here.
5. Tim Pawlenty
Republican governor could benefit
from name recognition due to crossover
media in northern Iowa, and he
may be able to campaign just far
enough under the radar to build
grassroots support while other
candidates (read Palin) suffer
public implosions, Martyn says.
“He’s never going to be the star
of the Republican Party,” says
Nevertheless, Republican insiders
are high on the governor — who
made McCain’s vice presidential
“The darkhorse is Pawlenty,”
Palmer says. “He’s a neighboring
governor who just pulled off what
many call a ‘budget miracle’ in
his home state and is leaving
on a high note. I believe Tim
has room to gain here in Iowa,
although he can’t do this from
afar and will need to travel the
state and play ‘retail politics’
as Iowan’s expect and demand face
to face exposure with those whom
they might get an opportunity
to vote for.”
6. Newt Gingrich
former U.S. House speaker from
Georgia is an ideas guy at a time
when the party is in desperate
need of ideas.
“We’re clearly going to have
to have ideas,” Woolson says.
“Four years ago it would not have
worked for Gingrich.”
But isn’t there a rule: one revolution
per lifetime? Gingrich led the
1994 GOP takeover of Congress.
By 2012 that will be almost two
decades old — and the demographics
of the nation have changed dramatically.
“Newt is still popular and certainly
smart,” Palmer says. “I see him
fading though and if he doesn’t
increase his Iowa profile, he
stands to fall off the list.”
7. Mike Pence
GOP House Conference chairman,
Pence is the third-ranking Republican
in the U.S. House and recently
has been outspoken on Iran and
the climate change bill.
A former talk-radio show host
in Indiana, Pence has been mentioned
by Iowa GOP insiders as a potentially
“Throughout his career in public
service, Congressman Pence has
been a forceful advocate for our
party’s principles of limited
government, personal responsibility,
and political, economic and religious
freedom,” said Iowa Republican
Party chairman Matt Strawn, adding
that he anticipates this message
resonating with many Iowans and
Pence fueled speculation about
a possible 2012 run by appearing
in both eastern and western Iowa
in late July. He joined U.S. Rep.
Steve King (R-Kiron) for an event
in northwest Iowa and keynoted
a multi-party picnic in Mount
In the Mount Vernon speech, Pence
said that while only 22 percent
of Americans described themselves
as liberal, voters sent “the most
liberal one-party government in
the history of the country” to
Washington, D.C., Iowa Independent’s
Lynda Waddington reported.
“So, what happened?” Pence asked.
“Some blame the war in Iraq. Others
blame scandals in Washington,
D.C. But I say the real scandal
in Washington, D.C. was run-away
federal spending under Republican
control. The truth is that Republicans
didn’t just lose a few elections,
we lost our way. We walked away
from our principles … and the
American people walked away from
After the event Waddington told
me that Pence’s connection with
the audience, his speaking style
in fact, reminded her of a 1999
George W. Bush.
“Could Pence be a presidential
contender? Yes,” Waddington told
Waddington said the reaction to
Pence was decidedly mixed. Some
Republicans aren’t excited about
naval-gazing and self-reflection.
They think there’s an open field
to run up yards on the Democrats
with the increased federal spending
and mandates President Obama is
8. Bobby Jindal
love Bobby Jindal," Jeb Bush
said in the Esquire interview.
"He's the real deal."
Louisiana's 38-year-old Republican
governor, in short-list territory
with many as a potential presidential
candidate for 2012, made what
could be considered an initial
foray into Iowa with a keynote
speech earlier this year in West
Des Moines on cultural values
to one of the Hawkeye State's
major Christian conservative organizations
- the Iowa Family Policy Center.
Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar whose
meteoric rise through Louisiana
politics has national party leaders
eyeing him as Oval Office material,
told me then there are more important
matters to think about than speculation
about his prospects as a leader
of a resurrected Republican Party.
He has a big job as governor of
Louisiana, Jindal said politely,
in a brief exchange.
That considered, State Rep. Linda
Upmeyer (R-Garner) sees Jindal
as being able to effectively bridge
social conservatives and the more
economically main street Republicans.??
Upmeyer, who heard Jindal speak
in West Des Moines, said at the
time she thinks Jindal would do
well in Iowa in 2012, should he
run, noting that he's clearly
articulate and passionate.
A graduate of Brown University
who later went to Oxford, England,
on a Rhodes Scholarship, Jindal
at age 24 was appointed as Louisiana's
secretary of the Department of
Health and Hospitals. In 2004,
Jindal, a second-generation Indian
American, who's Catholic, was
elected to Congress, and then
became governor in 2007. Additionally,
Upmeyer, who considers herself
a social conservative, said Jindal
passed something of a first-impression
gut or smell test with conservatives,
that they see him as one of them.
"I think he did," she
Jindal's detractors point to
his age and what was by all objective
accounts was a poor performance
earlier this year in the Republican
response to Obama's State of the
Union speech. To be fair, recall
that Bill Clinton overcame a lackluster
convention speech earlier in his
career. The practical case against
Jindal is that he's seeking re-election
as governor in 2011 and can't
be chasing lunched-down pork tenderloins
in Iowa with late-night gumbo
in Baton Rouge.
9. Eric Cantor
U.S. House Republican whip from
Richmond, Calif., was mentioned
as a possible vice presidential
candidate for John McCain in 2008.
Some Virginians even had McCain-Cantor
campaign materials printed.
Then there's this: The Washington
Post recently reported that Cantor
spent about $8,000 on speech coaches.
That said, he told the same newspaper
that he was not running for president.
As a member of the House Ways
& Means Committee, Cantor
has been in the middle of key
debates and is seen by GOP insiders
as a heavyweight on economic issues
- a serious man with policy credentials.
But in the last century and a
half, Members of the U.S. House
have not had much success in presidential
The last president to move from
the People's chamber to the Oval
Office was James Garfield in 1880.
But it's good they try. Arguably
the wittiest politician of the
20th century, U.S. Rep. Morris
Udall, an Arizona Democrat, made
a spirited and very legitimate
presidential bid in 1972 that
left generations of speechwriters
with a gem, his book, "Too
Funny To Be President."
10. Chuck Grassley
Grassley for president?
In talking on the phone with
Iowa State University professor
and WOI Radio 'Dr. Politics' host
Steffen Schmidt, I couldn't see
if he was maintaining a straight
face when he put forward this
idea: U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley
(R-Iowa) as a presidential candidate.
Schmidt, who has been in Ames
for four decades as a political
science professor, assured me
he was serious, that his face
was in fact straight, that he
was basing his comments on conversations
with people inside the Republican
"It's not a throwaway, B.S.,
or a joke or anything," Schmidt
The GOP, Schmidt said, is in
need of an 'adult' who can speak
for the party without embarrassing
it —as former potential
presidential candidates Gov. Mark
Sanford of South Carolina and
U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
have done in recent weeks. (I
had to scrub Sanford and Ensign
from this story — and I
interviewed Ensign just weeks
ago in Sioux City.)
Grassley fits that political
adult bill, plus he has a workmanlike
reputation on both sides of the
aisle, says Schmidt.
And while party leaders may be
concerned about Grassley's charisma
factor on a national stage and
age (he is 75 and first served
in the Iowa House when Dwight
Eisenhower was president), he'll
be a steady, Midwestern voice.?
"They know he's never flown
to Argentina," Schmidt said
in a reference to the embarrassing
saga involving Sanford and his
Of course, being relegated to
defining a candidate or a party
by what it is not, rather than
what it is, raises troubling questions.
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