It's Never Too Early for a 2012 GOP Primary Preview

I can’t take it anymore! I have to comment on the 2012 race. I love analyzing presidential elections like a normal guy loves critiquing football coaches. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at polls and studying the moves of every potential candidate. Already, two years before the primary elections and roughly a year before candidates start officially declaring their entry into the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, the advantages and dilemmas facing each aspirant are beginning to be seen.

The first batch of candidates we can look at are the candidates who need to come in the top three in Iowa to remain viable. The result of this first contest will decide which one or two social conservative darlings will continue as the race dwindles to two or three major contenders. Former Governor Mike Huckabee is having a great time as a TV host and says it is more likely than not that he will decline to run; Sarah Palin’s probable entry must influence that statement, although he could use his support of the FairTax to define his candidacy. Coming out of Iowa, only one of the two will survive if both run. Mitt Romney will also make a stand here, but the stakes are less high for him.

A batch of second-tier candidates will need to score at least second or third place in order to gain momentum. Currently leading this category is Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is definitely running. Senator Jim DeMint received little attention when he began a PAC and released a book, but can follow up a third-place showing with a win in his home state of South Carolina later. Congressman Mike Pence says he has thought about running in 2012 if the conditions are right, has declined to run for Senate, and has visited Iowa. Senator John Thune hasn’t publicly expressed interest, but the conservative media continues to promote him and he isn’t discouraging it.

Governor Haley Barbour might run also, but the field is crowded, he lacks the charisma to burst onto the scene as Huckabee did, and his history as a lobbyist won’t go over well with a public concerned about the integrity of its elected officials. I consider Newt Gingrich to be a top-tier candidate, with huge potential to break out as the frontrunners get slugged and he rocks the debates and offers new ideas instead of vague slogans. He and Romney are the most likely to come off as credible policy wonks. The major problem he faces is figuring out where to score a victory, as there are many other candidates more appealing to social conservatives in Iowa and there’s no other state that isn’t immediately inclined to support someone else.