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The field of potential 2012 candidates includes a few familiar faces from 2008, several very active pre-candidates who appear likely to run, and others whose intentions are impossible to discern.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin was the headline grabber among the field in 2009-10.  In July 2009 she surprised just about everyone by resigning her position as Governor of Alaska (quoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur she said she was "advancing in another direction") >.  She followed that with the success of her book Going Rogue (HarperCollins), which came out in November 2009 with a first printing of 1.5 million copies >

In the 2010 midterm elections Palin made a series of high profile endorsements; throwing her support behind dozens of candidates including a number of "mamma grizzlies."  She was credited, for example, with helping boost Nikki Haley to victory in the South Carolina gubernatorial primary and her endorsements played a major role in attorney Joe Miller's upset win over Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Senate primary and Christine O'Donnell's upset win over Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Senate primary.  Not all of her endorsements worked out, however.  Karen Handel fell just short in the Georgia gubernatorial runoff, and her endorsement of Brian Murphy in the Maryland gubernatorial primary failed to have much effect in his campaign against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich.  According to the Washington Post's "Palin Endorsement Tracker" Palin made a total of 64 endorsements; her candidates won in 33 races and lost in 21.

After the mid-terms there is the promise of more Palin activity.  TLC's eight-part series "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is set to premier on November 14.  Palin has another book coming out; America by Heart (HarperCollins) is due out on November 23. 

If Sarah Palin was not in the news, her daughter Bristol drew some attention.  Bristol announced her engagement to Levi Johnston in a cover story of Us Weekly in July 2010 >, then broke it off within a matter of weeks.  She also landed a spot on "Dancing with the Stars." 

Due to her celebrity status, Sarah Palin dominated coverage among those mentioned as possible 2012 candidates; during 2009-10 she appeared on about two dozen magazine covers, while the only other prospect to even muster more than one was Mitch Daniels with two.  On July 29, 2010 SarahPAC Treasurer Tim Crawford reported that Palin's Facebook page had reached two million fans; by comparison all of the other prospects had fewer than half a million. 

For all her Facebook friends, Palin has ample critics who deride her as a "former half-term governor" or believe that she is just cashing in on her celebrity.  Skeptics doubt her seriousness, doubt whether she will run, and doubt whether she could win. 

Former Gov. Mitt Romney was seen as something of frontrunner, in part because of his third place finish in 2008 and because his turnaround of the 2002 Olympics and business experience have given him a "Mr. FixIt" reputation that suggests he might be well suited to addressing the nation's economic difficulties.  He also has proven fundraising ability.  Romney's leadership PAC brought in significantly more money than the PACs of any of the other 2012 prospects, and he spread the wealth to GOP candidates and causes (1, 2, 3). 

Like Palin, Romney issued a book.  Unlike Palin's book, his No Apology: The Case for American Greatness (St. Martin's Press, March 2010) was decidedly policy oriented. 

For Romney, having run a previous presidential campaign is both an advantage and a disadvantage.  In 2007-08 Romney's appeal to social conservatives failed to pull him to first in the Iowa caucuses and only resulted in a fourth place showing in South Carolina.  Romney faced charges of being flip-flopper, questions about his Morman faith, and criticism of the health reform he instituted in Massachusetts.  Detractors may again raise these points.  Yet Romney's experience in the 2008 primaries introduced him to voters and gave him the experience of running.  He can learn from the areas that did not work in 2007-08, and indeed he has shown signs of adjusting his message and approach.  Romney is said to be downplaying his appeal to social conservatives and emphasizing the economy and national security.  In the 2008 pre-campaign period (Nov. 2004-Nov. 7, 2006) Romney made a dozen visits to Iowa; this cycle he made two visits in the comparable period.  Observers also see a more casual, jeans-wearing Romney as a candidate who might connect better with voters.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee remains popular in Iowa and his HuckPAC made 126 endorsements during the cycle >.  Mainly, however, Huckabee kept busy with his broadcast activities, and it is not clear that he has any interest in another campaign.  In addition to his weekly show "Huckabee" on FOX News, on July 26, 2010 he launched "The Huckabee Show" a daily hour-long program produced by Twentieth Television and running on seven FOX owned and operated stations for a test period of six weeks.  Also of note, Huckabee changed his residence to Florida.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ("T-Paw") been among the most active in signalling a probable 2012 White House bid and visiting early states (seven visits to Iowa, five to New Hampshire and one to South Carolina).  Pawlenty might benefit from his proximity to first-in-the-nation Iowa.  Pawlenty's bio notes that he "has used innovative and conservative leadership to balance that state's [Minnesota's] budget, cut spending, reform health care and improve schools without raising taxes."  On Aug. 31, 2010 Pawlenty gained a bit of notice by signing an executive order "directing state agencies to decline all discretionary participation in the federal health care legislation known as Obamacare." >  He emphasizes that his blue collar roots enable him to relate to regular folks >.  Pawlenty was a runner up for McCain's running mate in 2008 and is term-limited in 2010.  His forthcoming book Courage to Stand: An American Story (Tyndale House Publishers, Jan. 2011) will provide him a ready vehicle for further travels once he leaves office.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson has been conducting his pre-campaign activity through a 501(c)(4) political advocacy organization, the OUR America Initiative, rather than through a leadership PAC.  He brings a strong libertarian orientation and could attract many who supported Ron Paul, if Paul does not run.  Johnson could fare better than the Texas congressman by building on Paul's base with a more energetic and focused campaign.  He would certainly be the only candidate in the field to have climbed Mt. Everest (in 2003); more recently he completed RAGBRAI, the ride across Iowa, in July 2010 and the Breck Epic ultra-endurance mountain bike stage race in Colorado in August 2010.  Because he is little known and has a compelling story and a clear message, Johnson could do better than expected, but his advocacy of marijuana legalization may undermine his efforts.  His record of running positive campaigns could also help him stand out from the crowd.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum was the most active of the prospects in the pre-campaign period (he made seven visits to Iowa, five to New Hampshire and six to South Carolina).  He would bring to the race strong social conservative views [speech], but his position as a defeated former Senator would appear to be a weak base from which to launch a successful campaign. 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich would bring a lot of ideas and historical perspective to the race.  Gingrich says that he has "never been this serious" about the possibility of running and will decide early next year.  However, Gingrich took a similar approach in 2008 before opting not to run.  Gingrich was quoted in the Andrew Ferguson Weekly Standard profile of Gov. Daniels as telling the governor, "But say you’re leaving the door open, and the national press will pay a lot more attention to your viewpoint."  Given his past record, Gingrich could be pursuing this course.  However, this cycle would likely be Gingrich's last plausible chance for a White House run, and it is interesting to note that his wife Callista has assumed a high profile in his activities this cycle.

Gingrich has conducted much of his activity through his 527 group American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is described as "a tri-partisan citizen action network of over 1.5 Million members."  Beyond American Solutions, Gingrich has built up a mini-empire of groups ranging from the Center for Health Transformation to The Americano, "a bilingual site that offers a real take on news and opinon for Hispanics and true Conservatism."  Gingrich also added the political tome To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine (Regnery, May 2010) to his oeuvre and has another of his historical novels, Valley Forge (Thomas Dunne Books), due out right after the mid-terms. 

Gingrich was one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal to build a Muslim cultural center including a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.  In a mid-August he tweeted, "GZM Imam is apologist 4 sharia law & calls US accessory to 9/11.Won’t call Hamas terrorist org.Facts Obama forgot to mention."  In his speech at the Values Voter Summit in September Gingrich declared, "I am totally oposed to any effort to impose sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance in any jursdiction in the United States, will sharia be used by an court to apply to any judgment made about American law."

Because of his strong record as a fiscal conservative Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is term-limited in 2012, could be a solid prospect if he decides to get in.  Daniels has disclaimed interest in running, while not ruling it out.  He engaged in little overt activity that suggests a White House bid.  Although a September 2010 article by Jonathan Martin in Politico described how he has been holding dinners with various influential Republicans, he did not make any visits into the key early states.  Daniels did get a fairly glowing cover story in the June 15, 2010 issue of The Weekly Standard which caused a lot of buzz. 

The Weekly Standard article also touched off one of the more noted tempest-in-a-teapot skirmishes of the pre-campaign period.  Andrew Ferguson, in his profile story, wrote, "And then, he [Daniels] says, the next president, whoever he is, 'would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues.'" >  Former Gov. Mike Huckabee responded sharply in a June 10 statement to Politico, asserting that, "The issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues.  They are moral issues."  Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, found Daniels' statement "astonishing."  "Unfortunately, comments he made this week raise serious questions about his level of commitment to fundamental issues like life-leading many of us to wonder if he has the ability to lead a unified conservative movement," Perkins stated.  Months later at the Value Voters summit in Washington, conservative activist Phyllis Shlafly again alluded to the statement

If Gov. Haley Barbour were to run he could bring a formidable network into play.  Barbour is highly regarded for his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 1994 cycle and as the current chairman of the Republican Governors Association he raised record amounts >.  As Governor he came through both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill undamaged.  Barbour has a folksy appeal and as a Southerner might fare well in the critical South Carolina primary,

Barbour could come under attack for some of his lobbying work.  In an August 2010 interview > at the Hoover Institution Barbour said that, "I was a lobbyist and a pretty d**ed good one...  The next president of the United States on January 21st, 2013 is going to start lobbying.  He's going to be lobbying Congress, he's going to be lobbying other countries, he's going to be lobbying the business community, he's going to be lobbying the labor unions and the governors, 'cause that's what Presidents do."

Barbour is term-limited in 2011.  He did little overt 2012 activity, although at the beginning of August 2010 he did send out a letter to Iowa Republicans, as reported by Jonathan Martin of Politico.

Sen. John Thune has kept a very low profile in terms of presidential speculation ("My focus right now is very much on 2010").  He enjoyed the only uncontested U.S. Senate race of the 2010 cycle.  If he does decide to run he will be able to convert his Senate committee funds, which stood at $7.1 million >, to a presidential race.  

Rep. Mike Pence has strong conservative credentials, even going against his party on a number of key issues.  As he notes, "I opposed No Child Left Behind, I opposed the Medicare prescription drug bill, I opposed the Wall Street bailout."  Pence describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order."  He serves in the House Republican leadership as chairman of the Republican Conference.  In September 2010 Pence narrowly won Family Research Council Action's Values Voter Summit Straw Poll.  However, in recent decades the House of Representatives has not been a good launching point for White House bids.  Pence was mentioned as a possible candidate for Senate in 2010 and is also seen as a possible candidate for Governor in 2012.

Rep. Ron Paul has a very loyal following, but has not made his intentions about 2012 known; at 75 years old, his age could be an issue.

Former Gov. George Pataki has has visited Iowa four times and New Hampshire three times, and through his his 501(c)(4) Revere America emphasized repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  Former New Yorkers scattered around the country could provide a smattering of support, but the potential of a Pataki candidacy would appear to be very limited.

Radio talk show host Herman Cain is giving the notion of a White House run "prayerful consideration."  Cain's story, from his humble origins to his leadership of Godfather's Pizza to his recovery from Stage 4 cancer, is compelling.

Gay rights activist Fred Karger offers the possibility of a moderate, pro-choice candidacy that would set him apart from much of the field.  In 2010 Karger was the most active of any of the potential candidates, establishing an exploratory committee, and preparing to rent a house in New Hampshire.  The prospect of a gay rights activist sharing the stage with social conservative candidates in Republican primary debates could make for some interesting exchanges.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton told Townhall's Gary Benson on Oct. 1, 2010 that he is "very seriously" considering a 2012 White House run.

Real estate magnate Donald Trump told FOX on Oct. 5, 2010 that he is thinking about running for president.

Finally, two of the House Republican "Young Guns," Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan are seen as potential vice presidential picks.