4 Dark-Horse Republicans in 2012: Pawlenty, Sanford, Huntsman, and Cantor

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty heads a list of 4 GOP dark-horse candidates for president in 2012.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

You already know the names of the Republican stars expected to run for the 2012 presidential nomination: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. But with the party divided over the direction it wants to go and a slew of others eager to get in the presidential race, we've come up with a list of dark horses who could pull off an upset just the way 50-to-1 long-shot Mine That Bird did at this year's Kentucky Derby. We know that many Republican leaders are looking to the GOP bench for a candidate, so Whispers over the past month polled some of them for their top 2012 presidential dark-horse picks.

Four topped our list: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Next: Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and nearly a dozen other honorable mentions such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Could an upstart shove the likes of Newt and Mitt—the expected front-runners—aside? Right now, the insiders say that's unlikely, though there's a passion for Bush—but only if things get so bad under President Obama that his brother's unpopularity is forgotten. We will update our list of dark horses regularly and see if any new faces emerge.

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