“If no one is an immediate frontrunner, I think you might see a whole new cast of Republican candidates in the next few months,” DeMint told the Post’s Dan Balz. DeMint refused to mention any specific names, saying only that “there are a number of names bubbling around, particularly governors who have realized that doing some basic common sense things tends to inspire Americans.”
While DeMint’s comments are certainly intriguing — the Fix is forever looking for the next big thing in politics — a look around the Republican political firmament turns up few obvious choices for late-entrants into the presidential field.
Let’s start with governors, the ranks of which DeMint suggested might produce a new crop of national candidates.
Of the 25 Republican governors, 20 of them were elected or appointed in 2009 and 2010. That relative newness makes it difficult — rhetorically and organizationally -- for any of the 20 to quickly pivot to a presidential race.
The obvious exception to that rule is New Jersey’s Chris Christie who, in less than two years on the job, has emerged as a straight-talking superstar for Republicans nationally. While Christie has repeatedly said he is not ready to make a run for president, there are still many in the party who believe — hope may be a more accurate word — that Christie will reconsider if the field appears weak by the summer.
We’ve written before that if he ran, Christie would occupy an obvious slot in the field as a tea-party aligned economic conservative, a profile that would obviously appeal to DeMint who would have occupied similar space in the race had he chosen to pursue a bid.
It still seems an unlikely prospect, however. One plugged-in Republican operative suggested that there is a “10 percent” chance that Christie runs.
Beyond Christie, the only other potential candidate who could immediately step into the race with a real following is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who endeared himself to Republicans nationwide with his stand-off against organized labor earlier this year. But having just weathered that traumatic political moment, it’s hard to imagine Walker moving into the presidential field.
Other newly-elected governors with bright futures at the national level — South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez,Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett — seem content to let their stars rise more slowly.
So, if you assume that none of the newest governors will run, you are left with five people: Govs. Rick Perry (Texas), Mitch Daniels (Ind.), Bobby Jindal (La.), Dave Heineman (Neb.) and Butch Otter (Idaho) — all of whom were elected in 2007 or earlier.
Neither Heineman nor Otter have any sort of national profile. Jindal is actively running for a second term this November, making it impossible for him to simultaneously put the pieces of a presidential bid together. Perry is intriguing but might struggle with being viewed as the second coming of George W. Bush. Plus, Perry’s 2010 campaign manager Rob Johnson and longtime political consigliere Dave Carney have signed on with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, moves that suggest the Texas governor isn’t likely to be a surprise late entrant into the race.
That leaves Daniels, who has been actively considering the race for months. Daniels keep his own counsel — a rarity in politics — and so no one really knows what he is thinking about the race. But, from his own public pronouncements as well as those from his wife, we do know that Daniels’ family is not entirely on board — to put it kindly — with the idea of a national bid. Daniels has also been pilloried of late by social conservatives for his now infamous call for a “truce” on social issues.
Daniels has said he would make up his mind on the race in April. He had floated the possibility that that deadline might have to be pushed back due to the impasse in the Indiana legislature but with that problem now solved, Daniels is likely to come under considerable pressure to make his mind up sooner rather than later.
If the governors ranks are thin when it comes to late-entrant presidential prospects, the Senate and House cupboards are almost bare. With DeMint taking himself out consideration last week and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) doing the same last month, the only Senator even mentioned as a possible candidate is Rand Paul (Ky.). (People like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio are seen as national candidate material but neither man seems likely to make a surprise bid this time around.)
Paul seems to be relatively serious about a run, particularly if his father — Texas Rep. Ron Paul — doesn’t get into the race. “I think there will be one [Paul] on the ballot,” Paul the younger told reporters last week. “I think there’s a good chance of that.”
The House is even more bereft when it comes to presidential mettle and faces a daunting bit of history as no one since James Garfield way back in 1880 has been directly elected president from the lower chamber. Aside from Ron Paul and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is heavily leaning into a bid and expected by most strategists to run, there isn’t a single person being buzzed about as a late-entrant into the 2012 race — or any presidential contest in the foreseeable future for that matter.
Viewed broadly then, the 2012 field appears unlikely to be considerably affected by a last-minute candidacy. Christie is the true wildcard and would almost certainly re-shape the race if he ran. But, it’s hard to find anyone in Republican circles who put the odds on such a bid at anything short of long.
A Daniels candidacy would make the race interesting but wouldn’t exactly be the sort of “new cast” member to which DeMint was referring. Rand Paul might be an intriguing option given his following within the tea party but he would need to show an ability to reach out to voters outside of that base if he wanted to be a major factor.
In short, the window is starting to close for people to begin sending up trial balloons about their candidacies. Staff hires and the dash for cash by the top tier candidates has broken into the open in the last month. And with reports that President Obama may formally begin his re-election effort by the end of April, the pace of the GOP race is likely to quicken even further in the near future.
“To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the prize goes to those who are in the arena,” said Republican consultant Jon Lerner who is unaligned in the 2012 race. “The puzzle pieces of the race are moving into positions that help some candidates and hurt others, and that would not be completely upended by new entrants to the field.”