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GOP activists in Iowa divided on whether Palin can carry 2012 banner

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who finished second in Iowa in 2008, has many of the attributes that people said they were looking for.

"He has a strong business background and right now we need somebody who can look at the economy and decide what the heck to do with it," said Nancy Bielenberg, a registered nurse.

"He knows how to turn things around," said Jacob Chapman, director of operations for a private ambulance company.

But the mention of Romney's name also prompted numerous negative comments that added up to a significant lack of trust in him personally. He was described as "a used-car salesman," an "elitist," "arrogant" and a "flip-flopper."

Many pointed to the Massachusetts health care plan he signed into law as governor as a major problem. "I could support him, but he needs to go beyond the argument that it was good for Massachusetts," said Darin Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher. "I think he needs to apologize and he needs to say it was a big mistake and I've learned from it."

Newt Gingrich, who has been working hard in Iowa, drew many favorable comments. "He is the brightest political figure I've ever met in my life," said Ed Brown, CEO of the Iowa Clinic. Others saw Gingrich positively as someone who knows his way around power.

But his two divorces troubled others. One person called him "unelectable." Another said he was "not honest." A third said he was so polarizing that he "can't win the middle."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour drew different reactions in the two groups. Several of the activists in rural Crawford County described him as a charismatic, common-sense, mainstream conservative. One person said he would be as comfortable with Barbour in his living room as in the Oval Office.

"At this early point he's the one in the field a lot of us feel is presidential," said Arlan Ecklund, a sales representative.

But in West Des Moines, the interest in Barbour was tempered by questions of whether a southerner would play well in Iowa and elsewhere in the North. They also questioned whether he could attract young voters, whose support was crucial to Obama in 2008.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was seen as someone with leadership potential. His Midwestern roots prompted one person to say, "He's one of us." Another described him as "your next-door neighbor."

Dwayne Vande Krol, a lawyer, said Pawlenty should do well in Iowa's one-on-one campaign environment but added, "Whether he can take that outside of Iowa and the Midwest is yet to be seen."

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