When Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the presidential race last Saturday, some pundits were quick to declare the GOP field filled. At last, someone who could go toe-to-toe against the weak front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is too moderate and dispassionate for many Republicans’ taste, they said.
Not so fast.
If anything, the speculation and scooplets about possible new entrants have only accelerated. All week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have gotten the most buzz, but former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin get honorable mentions.
On Friday, a piece in The Daily Caller reported that former campaign staffers for ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty – who ended his campaign last Sunday – were trying to woo the blunt-spoken Governor Christie into the race. It also said these same staffers had received an overture from Representative Ryan, a, young conservative intellectual leader.
On Tuesday, The Weekly Standard reported that Ryan was “strongly considering a run.” The night before, former George W. Bush political guru Karl Rove raised the possibility on Fox News that both Christie and Ryan might reconsider their earlier statements that ruled out a run.
Yet it must be stated that there is no love lost between the two Texans, Mr. Rove and Governor Perry. So any suggestion by Rove that the GOP field still lacks The One, and that other major contenders may yet enter, must be discounted.
Still, says Ari Fleischer, former Bush White House spokesman, “I’m a little hesitant to put it all on motive, because as much as Karl has motives, he has good ears.”
Certainly, Perry’s debut has not been flawless. He said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would be committing treason if he printed money prior to the next election and would be treated “ugly” if he then went to Texas – a harsh assertion that brought GOP wrath upon Perry’s head. He declined to affirm that President Obama loves America. He questioned climate science and evolution.
All those statements might play well in red America, but in the context of a general election, they were considered gaffes. They haven’t become part of his standard patter; Perry is still refining his rhetoric.
Bottom line: No candidate is perfect, and no new entry shuts the door to others.
But it is getting late. With each passing day, it gets increasingly difficult for anyone to pull together the organization and donors needed to mount a credible campaign. Fundraising would be especially difficult for a House member like Ryan, who has never had to raise national money before.
When asked about running, Ryan’s reply is always the same: He feels he’s right where he should be, chairing the House Budget Committee and helping lead the GOP charge to dramatically slash government spending. Plus, he has three small children.
Christie, too, has good reasons to stay right where he is. He’s been in his job only 19 months and could build a stronger résumé for a run in 2016 or 2020, depending on who wins in 2012.
“I think Governor Christie wants to be reelected and is making positive change in New Jersey,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of Civic Forum PAC.
Then there’s Ms. Palin, who still draws support in the polls and bursts onto the stage periodically – especially when the national press is nearby, as in Iowa last weekend. But there’s been zero indication that she’s organizing staff or potential donors behind the scenes for a run.
Another familiar figure who has hinted at running is Mr. Giuliani. As a moderate, he could complicate life for Mr. Romney in the first primary, New Hampshire, but he also hasn’t shown serious signs of organizing. And he ran a mediocre campaign four years ago.
Another former governor who has been dropping hints in the first caucus state, Iowa, is George Pataki of New York. But if he runs, analysts don’t give the moderate any chance of making waves in a campaign where the energy is among conservatives.
For some, getting publicity by hinting at a run may be more about speaker’s fees and other business endeavors than about any serious notions of trying to become president.
But this is a good cycle for a large field. With no clear front-runner – a rarity for the Republicans – the race is fluid. This invites new entrants and the possibility of winning an early primary or caucus with a modest plurality of the vote.
So the GOP field may well not be completely set. Though it’s getting late.