Republican 2012 primary field slowly getting full, but true front-runner has yet to emerge

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

While a host of Republicans — ranging from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich — have said President Barack Obama needs to be replaced in 2012, so far few have proven willing to take the plunge into a presidential challenge.

By all accounts, the field of possible 2012 GOP contenders seems to have something for everyone — libertarians, "big tent" conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and businessmen. The real question is whether Republican and conservative voters can find the one to rally around come Election Day in 2012.

According to a variety of reports, the 2012 race may contain big-name Republicans like Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush or John Bolton. While known to many, each of these possible candidates would bring a number of challenges with him.

Time Magazine calls Evangelicals Gingrichs biggest challenge, saying theyre not a match made in heaven.

A personal history that includes multiple affairs and divorces doesnt have to spell electoral doom for a GOP candidate if he presents it as part of a narrative of sin, repentance and redemption, Amy Sullivan writes. But Gingrich seems constitutionally incapable of engaging in the kind of confession and repentance that evangelicals want.

Giuliani, whose 2008 presidential bid didnt take off like he had hoped after the primary in Florida, told Politico he might enter the race if the Republican candidates are too far right so that they cant win the general election.

After Giulianis 2008 defeat, the UKs Guardian credited a flawed campaign strategy and his socially liberal views as the miscalculations that led to the end of his run.

On the issues that mattered to the Republican right — gun laws, gays and abortion — Giuliani simply was not their man, the newspaper said.

Although a recent Gallup Poll shows that social issues have taken a backseat behind the economy, federal spending and the deficit, Giulianis strategy of aiming for the middle rather than courting the Republican base voters has proven ineffective in the past. What happens in 2012, however, remains to be seen.

For Bush, the most obvious challenge he would have to overcome is his name. While former President George W. Bushs popularity has improved since he left office — a March 23 Pew Research Center poll gives him a 42 percent favorable rating, up from 37 percent in September — Democrats ran against George W. Bush two years after he left office and would likely appreciate the opportunity to do so again.

According to Bolton, the decision to officially enter the 2012 race is still on the distant horizon, as The Washington Post reports that he is still thinking about it. If he were to enter, Bolton said, foreign policy would be the driving force behind the move.

I think its important not to have sound bites and bumper stickers but to have a sustained political discussion, Bolton said. We havent had an adequate discussion at the national level on threats to American national security. I think it is very important to get that conversation going.

With the Middle East engulfed in turmoil and ongoing challenges in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, a foreign policy candidate may be able to get a foot in the door. However, with the possibility of terrorist attacks in the U.S. far down on the list of current American concerns, foreign policy credentials alone might not be enough to carry Bolton through the nomination process.

Conservative stars — and lighting rods — Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have also toyed with entering the 2012 field. According to CNN, Bachmann plans to form a presidential exploratory committee (the first step in making an official run) in June or earlier.

A Bachmann candidacy would crowd Palins space, The Washington Post says, because she might steal core conservatives from Palin while she decides whether or not to run.

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