Palin, Huckabee, Romney Dominate GOP 2012 Field

The three major candidates are sucking up all of the oxygen, says a GOP pollster.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

To all the budding Republican superstars looking at the 2012 presidential race—that would include Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty—your time might be running out. In a party that allows for only a handful of big names in the primaries and favors those making a second try, the room is getting full. "We already have a relatively mature field," says GOP pollster Bill McInturff. And by mature, he means that there are already three established candidates: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney.

"I always talk about oxygen in a presidential primary race, with the amount of oxygen being finite, meaning attention and coverage," McInturff tells Whispers. "If Governor Palin does run, it is difficult to imagine how a new candidate gets the oxygen needed for a breakout," he says. "In this way, it accrues to the advantage of already established candidates like Palin, Huckabee, and Romney."

Not all Republicans agree, of course. But others acknowledge that it takes much longer now for candidates to raise enough money to mount a strong campaign. Also, early candidates gobble up the campaign talent. And unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican camp generally likes to nominate somebody who has run before.

Still, despite the dominance of the big three likely presidentials, some in the GOP are hoping for a new conservative face, particularly one being pushed by the activists who attended spring antitax tea parties and flooded summer town halls to demand a halt to government expansion. And for them, insiders say, that could be Daniels, the fiscal conservative and rare Republican governor to win re-election in a state President Obama won in 2008. We hear he's serious about considering a 2012 entry, so much so that he's consulting with some of those who once sat in the White House, like former Vice President Dan Quayle, also a Hoosier.

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

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