WASHINGTON — Just two Republicans, Gov. Tim Pawlenty included, are “engaged in the serious travel, staff hiring, contact building and general planning that are required to make a credible run for President,” according to an analysis of how the 2012 race is shaping up published today by TIME Magazine’s Mark Halperin.
The other? Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom Halperin says “has the stronger hand but some real problems,” not least of which is on health care. As Halperin explains, Romney “is sure to face ferocious opposition from the right and left given his confusing opposition to the new federal health care law, which is strikingly similar to the measure he signed as Massachusetts governor (among other analogous items, the statewide plan included a requirement that individuals buy health insurance).”
Yet Pawlenty, who plans to leave his governor’s seat after November’s election and run full-time for the Republican nomination, faces an even tougher test. Romney may have some trouble with his national image, but Pawlenty, in comparison, is nearly anonymous. Even among donors, some leading Republican officeholders and the media — let alone the general public — he is a virtual unknown.
While both Romney and Pawlenty have their eyes squarely on the 2012 nomination, with active travel and media schedules and plans to campaign as Republican candidates in the midterms, they are well behind past early starters in establishing presidential operations. John Edwards, for example, launched his aggressive run shortly after Bush won re-election in 2004, heading immediately to first-in-the-nation voting states, planting stakes in Iowa, seeking key endorsements and carving out policy areas like his pet theme of poverty. There has been no comparable activity this cycle, suggesting a certain ambivalence within the potential Republican field. Romney made his first visit to Iowa in March, as part of his book tour, and Pawlenty has barely touched ground in the early battlegrounds.
Meanwhile, the other most talked-about Republican names — Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich — are cannily leaving the door open for a run, but are spending far more time on personal profitmaking enterprises than presidential campaign foundation building. And Republican élites are just as ambivalent about this trio. Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich may boast charisma and obvious appeal, but each are saddled with their own mess of flaws and failings that render them for now decidedly questionable challengers to Obama.