Insiders Say Palin, Christie Can Still Jump in 2012 Race

Bill Clinton didn't get in the race until October 1991.

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Bill Clinton did it. And now as Republican operatives are trying to figure out if a populist Republican like Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie can get into the presidential race so late in the process and grab the nomination next summer.

Most Republican advisers say yes, but time is short. "The clock is winding down," says Doug Heye, former Republican National Committee spokesman, and a U.S. News blogger. "It's now or never, as Elvis Presley reminds us."

[See a collection of political cartoons about the GOP contenders.]

Ron Bonjean, a top GOP strategist who also writes for U.S. News, said, "the window is closing but isn't shut for someone else to capture the enthusiasm of primary voters."

And GOP pollster and strategist Frank Luntz said, "it's not too late if you have what your party wants, you're willing to fight for it, and the most successful people in the business are willing to fight alongside you."

Clinton didn't get into the 1992 race until Oct. 3, 1991, but the race was much different that the current one.

For starters, said Mike McCurry, former Clinton spokesman, the top Democrat at the time, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, decided late not to challenge President George H.W. Bush who had sky-high approval ratings after the first Gulf War. Plus, the economy, while ailing, was no way near as bad as today's.

Plus, McCurry said, back then campaigning simply started later. "The cycle on the GOP side is taking on its own chronology, but it is beginning to feel like the gate is closing," he said.

Mary Matalin, who helped to run Bush's re-election campaign in 1992, noted that when Clinton got in, he wasn't facing big name front-runners like a new GOP entry would in Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "That field really was the Seven Dwarfs," she said.

As for Bush, or Palin or Christie getting into the well established race now, she added, "The only rationale to get in this late is a candidacy that would be automatically assume front-runner position which puts him/her immediately in the bull's eye, a la Perry." She adds, "Campaigns are like war. The strategy is good until boots hit the ground. There is no Republican Romeo. We are going to get the strongest candidate who can be trusted as evidenced by his/her record or consistency and give up on searching for Prince Charming."

[Check out political cartoons about Palin.]

Matalin also dismissed recent criticism of Perry. "Perry is really good," she said.

A poor recent debate performance by Perry and a lack of GOP enthusiasm for Romney have some in the GOP searching for yet another candidate to join. Most of their focus is on Christie, the one-term New Jersey governor who has taken on unions in his state and who is considered a straight-talker.

Only Palin has indicated that she is looking at entering the race. Christie and Bush have ruled out running, though Christie this week is on a GOP speaking tour that includes a keynote address to the Reagan Foundation's leadership forum.

Former Clinton aide Chris Lehane said that a late entry by a big name like Christie is possible. But he explained that winning is a different thing altogether.

"They are going to go from hitting minor league pitching to going into Game 7 of the World Series, which no matter how good one is will be a big step up," Lehane told Whispers. Add to that the problem of organizing and funding a campaign on the fly and getting on all the primary and caucus state ballots, and a late entry is a tough slog. [See photos of Palin and her family.]

Lehane also points out that the GOP rush to find a new candidate like Christie indicates that the Republican base doesn't think that those already running can beat Obama.

"What all of this tells me is that the Republican's recognize that while the economic times would suggest a tough ecology for the president to be running for re-election in, the Republicans have managed to put together an unelectable slate," said Lehane.

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