Republican presidential candidates line up for 2012 race

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2010

If you're a political junkie craving the start of the 2012 presidential race, your time has come! A series of developments over the past week signaled the kickoff of the long road to the nomination, with a number of Republican aspirants taking their ambitions (semi-) public.

To wit:

-- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been the most conspicuous of the field in making his interest in the race known, flooded the zone in official Washington over the past several days with a speech at the conservative CPAC gathering, a fundraiser for his Freedom First PAC featuring Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and a Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press" in which he told moderator David Gregory that he would decide on the race in "early 2011." Pawlenty has already visited Iowa and New Hampshire in recent months, and he heads back to the Granite State on March 25 to headline a dinner for the Manchester Republican Committee.

-- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the nominal GOP front-runner, named Matt Rhoades, who served as communications director for his 2008 presidential campaign, as the head of his Free and Strong America PAC -- a move greeted with approving nods by many in the Republican chattering class. Romney, in his own address at CPAC, sounded every bit the party leader, denouncing the Obama administration as a "failure" while offering a -- somewhat surprising -- defense of the policies put in place by President George W. Bush, policies that Romney criticized during his presidential bid.

-- Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee reshuffled his top political staffers, with his daughter, Sarah, moving from her job running Huck PAC to serve as campaign manager for the Senate bid of Rep. John Boozman (Ark.). To fill the void left by his daughter, Huckabee hired Hogan Gidley, who, not coincidentally, comes to Huck PAC after a stint as the executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party.

-- Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, in Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting over the weekend, made time to host a group of national political reporters -- the Fix included -- to talk about the 2010 governors landscape and, by the way, his own interest in a presidential bid. "If there is anything to think about after the election is over, then I'll start to think about it then," Barbour said in a classic bit of leaving-the-door-ajar-ism. "If you see me lose 40 pounds, you will see I am either running or have cancer."

While Barbour -- and the other 2012 potentials -- were quick to note that their attention is focused on helping the GOP winning House and Senate seats as well as governor's mansions this fall, the financial and organizational demands of a run for the presidency necessitate that any serious candidate begin putting the pieces in place well before the last votes are cast in November.

John Weaver, the man who spent years -- literally -- lining up support for Sen. John McCain in advance of the Arizona Republican's 2008 presidential bid, said the 2012 race is actually starting a bit later than some previous nomination fights.

"All national elections take on their own timing, Weaver said. "Between now and January amounts to presidential campaign 'two-a-days,' to use a football term. They better be ready for game day in 11 months."

Let's kick this thing off!

A new entry in Nevada

Is the next senator from Nevada a Wall Street executive who has spent most of the past three decades on the East Coast?

John Chachas thinks so. And, given the weakness of the Republican field and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's abysmal poll numbers, Chachas could be right.

Chachas, 44, who has been mulling over the race for month, recently quit his job as managing director at the investment bank Lazard Ltd. and, fueled by a $1.3 million personal donation (he says he can put more of his own money in if need be), has become instantly relevant in a Republican primary field currently led by former state party chair Sue Lowden and businessman Danny Tarkanian.

Chachas said that attacks on his decades working in the financial sector -- he served as an adviser to the boards of directors for a number of media companies -- amounted to "politically charged noise." But he acknowledged that in an electoral climate so averse to the idea of Wall Street executives lining their pockets, he will have to tackle that negative image "head on" during the campaign.

Polling suggests, not surprisingly, that Chachas is an absolute unknown in the state and trails both Tarkanian and Lowden by double digits. He hopes to solve that problem in the coming days with a battery of ads designed to introduce him to Nevada voters as an outsider to the political process who has spent his life "giving advice to healthy and not-so-healthy businesses."

The question on voters' minds this fall, Chachas argues, is who has the right experience to make the government work again for average people. His answer: "We need more people from business who know how to fix it."

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