Rupert Cornwell: The long race to challenge Obama begins

Out of America: Two years to go, but this Thanksgiving weekend is when politicians start thinking of the White House

Related Topics

Ah, these days of Thanksgiving, that most agreeable and intimate of American holidays. It is an occasion for family, friends, and simple pleasures. But for a handful of ambitious Republican politicians, it is the moment to start making up their minds about a run for the 2012 presidency, which suddenly seems wide open.

By the standards of most other countries, such manoeuvrings are indecently hasty. Not here, however, in the land of the two-year election cycle, where the ink had barely dried on the returns of this month's Congressional mid-terms when the jockeying for 2012 began – and certainly not when President Barack Obama, so thrillingly triumphant only two short years ago, increasingly looks a man adrift, his job there for the taking.

Nor is the trend new. It was this same November week in 2006 that the then governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, became the first Democrat to throw his hat into the ring for 2008. Inside two months, Hillary Clinton followed, quickly joined by Obama himself. By then, half a dozen Republicans had declared they wanted to succeed George Bush.

True, the calendar is marginally less compressed now than last time around. Then, the Iowa caucuses which kick off the nominating season took place on 3 January 2008, after state upon state had brought its primary forward – all in order to brag they were the ones that made a president. For 2012, the caucuses have been pushed back to 6 February. Although nobody has yet officially declared, several have made clear, by words or deeds, that they are thinking very seriously about a run. So this is how the potential Republican field is shaping up, 14 short months before the official off in Iowa.

Unlike Democrats, who chose Obama over a host of more prominent rivals when he had served barely half a single Senate term, Republicans usually prefer a known quantity who has paid party dues, often a past or present governor or former governor, and who has run for the White House before.

So any list must start with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, former governors both, who were John McCain's closest challengers for the party's nomination in 2008. Each says he has not made up his mind – though their growing organisations in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada suggest otherwise.

But both have drawbacks. Christian conservatives may well be as suspicious of Romney's Mormon faith, as they were in 2008. He is a polished, if over-smooth, performer, of proven competence as an administrator and businessman. And, last week, he received what sounded very much like an endorsement from the first President Bush. But the health reform Romney pushed through while governor of Massachusetts – so like the "Obamacare" that Republicans vow to repeal – will surely hurt him.

Huckabee does not suffer from this problem, and he also has the precious perch of his own show on Fox News, the in-house channel for party activists. Right now, moreover, Huckabee is the Republican who does best in polling match-ups against Obama.

But Fox might also represent his biggest potential problem, in the person of Sarah Palin, another regular contributor to the network. Quite possibly, she will decide she is best off where she is, on the sidelines, enjoying power without responsibility. But if she does seek the nomination, she will be fishing in the same pool of socially conservative voters as Huckabee. She will also have the benefit of higher name recognition and fundraising power.

Right now, Romney, Huckabee and Palin (should she run) form an unofficial top tier of GOP (Grand Old Party) candidates. But given the sour and unpredictable mood of voters, that could change in an instant – which is also why half-a-dozen prominent Republicans are mulling things over.

They include Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty is solid, with a reputation as a likeable, no-frills Midwesterner. He has a decent organisation, and is well-known in next-door Iowa where the winnowing process starts. Maybe, though, he's just too ordinary for voters demanding the extraordinary.

If so, then why not Newt Gingrich, the former speaker who has never run for the White House but has never sounded more like a future candidate? Gingrich is everything Romney and Pawlenty are not: fast-talking and bubbling with ideas, some brilliant, some dotty; persuasive one instant, depositing his foot in it the next. And he, too, has a Fox slot from which to address the faithful.

Few would be surprised if one or more successful incumbent governors joined in – Mitch Daniels, once George W Bush's budget director, who has a 70 per cent approval rating in Indiana; or Haley Barbour, the canny, ultra-connected governor of Mississippi; or Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who won in 2009 in an increasingly Democratic state.

And, even in this anti-Washington year, a Republican senator or two must feel he has a shot. Jim DeMint, the forceful conservative from South Carolina, is a champion of the Tea Party. Then there's John Thune of South Dakota – handsome, articulate, conservative and young (just 49). And if Thune, then why not the newly elected Senator Marc Rubio from Florida, a son of Cuban exiles who is all of the above and, at 39 even younger still?

The field, in short, is broad, and might get even broader. The only name missing is one who in other circumstances might have been the strongest Republican challenger of all. But the Bush brand is tarnished these days and Jeb, the last president's brother, insists he won't run. His father's warm words for Romney would seem to bear that out. But let's check back on that come Thanksgiving 2011.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a visit to Scottish Widows offices in Edinburgh, where he made an impassioned plea to keep Scotland part of the union, saying he would be  

David Cameron did the right thing, so why does Scotland’s vote feel like a defeat?

John Rentoul

i Editor's Letter: The rules were simple: before the results are announced, don’t mention the S-word

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week