GOP 2012 Rankings, Updated 6/10/10

I've been getting poked and prodded by folks about my extreme lateness updating these rankings -- nice to know you care! Sorry for the lengthy delay. I've been a little busy, and these rankings require a huge investment of time and resources; there's a whole team that compiles research, and a devoted data center to run the complex algorithms. You didn't think it's just me pulling this stuff out of my ass do you?

OK, so maybe that's exactly what it is.

Anyway, it's really getting to be candidate-spotting time up in New Hampshire. Republicans there are hoping to win the open US Senate seat, the two open US House seats, and enough legislative seats to regain both state chambers. That means there are lots of candidates, and party committees, who would appreciate fundraising assistance from celebrity pols -- and who might later express their appreciation by helping in a Presidential campaign.

But perhaps the most important development in the 2012 New Hampshire primary is taking place 3000 miles away, in Arizona. That's where Senator John McCain, the most popular Republican in the Granite State, is fighting for re-election against a conservative primary challenger.

A McCain endorsement before the New Hampshire primary would be huge, huge, huge. I get the sense that Tim Pawlenty is lobbying hard for it -- and thinks that A) he deserves it, for his long-time loyalty to McCain, B) he's owed it, for McCain passing him over for the VP slot, and C) he's the guy who could really stick it to Mitt Romney (who McCain loathes), by beating him in New Hampshire.

Romney has stepped up in a big way to help McCain in his re-election campaign. I interpret that as acquiring chits to keep McCain from endorsing against him in 2012.

Of course, they're hardly the only two potential Prez candidates with an eye on McCain. Sarah Palin, if she's running, would clearly be damaged by McCain endorsing someone else -- and notice that, after trashing his campaign in her bestseller, she made nice by campaigning for him in Arizona. Obviously McCain's fellow Senators, like John Thune, would want his help -- and take note that McCain's primary is one of the very few where Jim DeMint has passed up an opportunity to endorse an ultra-conservative challenger; he's vowed to remain neutral.

Similar posturing is taking place in other states as well, including Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina -- the other three states who will go first in 2012 (as the plans appear to be unfolding), all of which have very active 2010 campaign cycles. Keep an eye on all of it; or, follow me here, on Twitter (@dbernstein) and on Facebook and I'll try to keep you informed.

On to the new rankings (previous rank in parentheses):

1) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. T-Paw makes his third Granite State visit in a few weeks, raising money for the locals and making more personal connections. I think he has a real good chance to get traction there; as I've said before, you don't need to be a barn-burner on the stump to win over New Hampshire Republican primary voters. He also does Jon Stewart tonight. (1)

2) Mike Pence, Congressman from Indiana. I really thought I'd be dropping him from this lofty spot, but I got nobody quite ready to displace him. He pretty much owns conservative talk radio and the blogosphere, and is the big hit everywhere he speaks to the faithful (the National Rifle Association convention in May being a recent example, where he did well despite following Palin) -- plus he's been able to gain the reputation as the party's policy guy in the House, without anyone paying much attention to any actual policy proposals, because of the GOP irrelevance in the House. I think that he gets hurt badly if Republicans retake the House, however, because suddenly what he's doing will be very relevant, and scrutinized. (2)

3) John Thune, US Senator from South Dakota. He is doing absolutely everything perfectly -- including staying mostly below the radar. That effort has been greatly assisted by the complete failure of South Dakota Democrats to put up a challenger in Thune's re-elect this year. That means nobody poking and prodding Thune all year, leaving him free to help other Republicans, and pick his spots to make news -- like criticizing Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagen's 2nd Amendment views. He's already got a great national fundraising network, $6 million in the bank, and a solid Leadership PAC -- all of which has made GOP insider types eager to come on board, because they know that he'll be able to pay salaries for a good long while. (7)

4) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas. Says he's not running. As if you can say anything else while running for another four-year term as Governor. I don't see how he resists repeating GWB's 1999 Iowa invasion. (3)

5) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana. Daniels is having a little bit of a trial-balloon rollout, with a big feature in the Weekly Standard, a DC shmooze tour and fundraiser for his leadership PAC, and a few other notable moves. Seems like he's trying to come across as the likable version of Mitt Romney. (6)

6) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi. Barbour's best chance is if GOP insiders think a lunatic is going to get nominated, potentially causing a disastrous 2012 election for Republicans all down the ballot. At the moment, I get the sense that there's a little less fear of that scenario, and thus a little less interest in Barbour as the fail-safe against that. So, insiders are feeling free to watch and take time to decide among the several available "grown-ups." But if a Palin, Gingrich, or DeMint starts really looking dangerous, I think you'll see a rally-'round-Barbour movement. (5)

7) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South Carolina. He's slipping down my list, mainly because he's not doing much to show me he's serious about winning Iowa. And, he's got to win Iowa -- he ain't gonna win Nevada or New Hampshire, and his home state doesn't count, so where else would he gain momentum? On the plus side, he can raise money like nobody's business. (4)

8) Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts. He keeps raising and spreading the wealth, and solidifying his reputation as the party's dean. And, his protege might become governor of California. However, it looks like the party is moving toward a more drawn-out primary process, which is exactly the opposite of what Romney needs -- he needs to have blue state Super-Duper-Tuesday before anybody else has the money and name recognition to compete. I don't see how Romney doesn't lose Iowa the same way he did last time; the South, including South Carolina, is hostile territory for him; and everybody will concede Nevada to him, so nobody will care that he wins it. And forget about polls showing him dominant in New Hampshire -- I think he's going to have a very, very tough time winning there -- especially if McCain endorses someone else. (8)

9) Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. This oil disaster is fantastic for him, politically. Did you see him out vacuuming the beach the other day? Freakin' great stuff. (11)

10) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. He's in New Hampshire -- yet again -- later this month. I still don't think he's running, but you never know. (9)

11) Meg Whitman, candidate for Governor of California. Now that she's won the primary handily, I think we have to assume that she is a reasonably capable campaigner. Yes, yes, I realize she spent $71 million, but she still had to be likable enough, gaffe-free enough, and scandal-free enough for people to actually vote for her. You might assume that -- if she beats Brown in November -- she would wait until 2016, rather than immediately jumping into the national race, but if I was advising her I'd tell her that every day actually being in charge of that f-ed up state is a bad day for her national image. I'm sure she wouldn't run against fellow Bainiac Romney, but I could see him stepping aside and supporting her. (--)

12) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Slips a little after a steady climb up my list -- he's been busy trying to manipulate his state's elections, and if that ends up with the GOP pissing away the Senator and Governor races there, it would be tough for him to then step forward to lead the national party. (10)

13) Marco Rubio, candidate for US Senator from Florida. Charlie Crist's independent candidacy made it harder for Rubio to win, but it also changed his dynamic within the party -- instead of being the annoying jerk beating their prefered candidate, he is now the guy who can beat the annoying jerk who betrayed the party. (19)

14) Bob McDonnell, Governor of Virginia. He's been fundraising for just about everybody, although not in New Hampshire as far as I know -- he did come close, though, hosting a fundraiser for Vermont gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie. Which gives me an excuse to say "Dubie." Anyway, remember that Virginia governors are only allowed one term; also, if Republicans don't do well in November, his win looks even more impressive in the party. (--)

15) Bob Corker, US Senator from Tennessee. Reportedly got in a heated verbal exchange with Obama, which has to help his reputation -- but he didn't immediately try to parlay it into money and attention, a la Joe "You Lie" Wilson. (12)

16) Jon Kyl, US Senator from Arizona. If McCain survives, he'll have Kyl to thank perhaps more than anyone. (17)

17) John Kasich, candidate for Governor of Ohio. Now behind Whitman among 2010 gubernatorial challengers most likely to turn right around and launch a viable national campaign. (13)

18) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. I'm putting him back above Palin, because he really does seem to be trying to remain politically relevant -- although he keeps picking real losers to support. (18)

19) Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska. Seen her fav/unfavs lately? (14)

20) Dan Quayle, former Vice President. Did you see his WaPo op-ed arguing that the GOP should make room for the Tea Party crowd? (15) 

21) Luis Fortuno, Governor of Puerto Rico. Apparently his cops have been beating students on the University of Puerto Rico campus, where there's a big labor strike. Seems like a plus from the perspective of a GOP primary. (16)

22) Jeff Sessions, US Senator from Alabama. As ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, he could make a name for himself in the Kagan hearings. Let's see if he does. (21)

23) Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State. Lurking? (22)

24) George Pataki, former Governor of New York. Seems awfully unlikely. (24)

25) Rick Santorum, former US Senator from Pennsylvania. Clearly running. Maybe nobody else will, and he'll have a chance. (25)

Dropping off the list: Eric Cantor, Jim Huntsman.

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