Alexa

Analysis: Republican race about who's out, not in

 FILE - In this March 28, 2011 file photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gestures as he addresses students at the business school at Mississippi ...
 FILE - This May 11, 2011, file photo shows then-possible 2012 presidential hopeful, Republican Donald Trump, waving to a crowd of over 500 people dur...

GOP Race Not It Analysis

FILE - In this March 28, 2011 file photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gestures as he addresses students at the business school at Mississippi ...

GOP Race Not It Analysis

FILE - This May 11, 2011, file photo shows then-possible 2012 presidential hopeful, Republican Donald Trump, waving to a crowd of over 500 people dur...

The Republicans are having a hard time finding somebody to run for president in 2012.
After months of teasing, property developer and TV showman Donald Trump has pulled himself out of the running. Haley Barber, deep-south Mississippi's governor, made some soundings in the electorate, then said he would not run. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a surprisingly strong candidate in 2008, says he has had enough. Shortly after Barber pulled the plug a few weeks ago, two lesser potential candidates, John Thune and Mike Pence, did the same.
These days it seems the race to choose a Republican to run against Democratic President Barack Obama is more about who is not running than who is.
Is it the challenge of beating an incumbent president or the state of the Republican Party?
"What if they held an election and no one ran? That's kind of where we are right now," Curt Anderson, a veteran Republican pollster, says with a chuckle.
That is not to say there are no candidates for the opposition. Republicans who have taken steps toward running include former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who was a serious contender for the nomination in 2008; former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota; and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who recently resigned as U.S. ambassador to China and returned to Utah, is considering a run as well.
But with each I'm-not-running announcement comes a new round of questions within Republican circles: Will New Jersey's Chris Christie and Florida's Jeb Bush stay on the sidelines as they insist? What about Sarah Palin, the controversial vice presidential candidate in 2008, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels? Is there anyone else who may emerge, say a late entry by Texas Gov. Rick Perry?
So far, it is a far smaller field than many Republican observers expected, and it comprises candidates who are not yet quenching the thirst of a primary electorate looking for the strongest Republican to challenge Obama as he seeks a second term.
"It does look like on the Republican side there is more demand than supply for potential nominees," says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and adviser to President George W. Bush.
But he insisted: "Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee has a 50/50 shot at being the president."
Gillespie and other Republicans contend that Obama is not in as strong a position as it might seem considering the bump in polls he got after U.S. Navy commandos he had sent killed al-Qaida terror leader Osama bin Laden. They point to an economy that still is sluggish, unemployment that still is high and the president's standing in some states considered open for either party to win.
Typically, the Republicans who have recently refused to run have said they were confident the party can field a candidate who could win the presidency in November 2012. But it is hard to see how one maxim in presidential politics did not contribute to their decisions: Americans do not usually like to sack their presidents.
It has happened three times since the end of World War II. Republican Gerald Ford, who was appointed not elected, lost in 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter, who beat Ford, lost in 1980, and Republican George H.W. Bush lost in 1992.
"That's probably a factor. The president deceivingly looks very strong right now, and there has to be a hesitancy to get into a race that's going to be a slugfest and could cost a candidate $1 billion. That might be giving some people pause," says Frank Donatelli, the chairman of GOPAC, an organization that trains Republicans to run for elective office. "It's a small field right now. But Obama is so vulnerable, that whoever emerges is going to be a credible challenger."
Others doubt that fear of losing to Obama is much of a consideration, if any, as Republicans weigh their options.
"It's more that people are just sizing up what it takes to run and deciding that they don't have it in them. These are personal decisions that people make," says Gillespie.
Still others say the lack of a crop of strong candidates with no flaws may have to do with growing pains within the party. They say terrible elections for Republicans in 2006 and 2008 robbed the party of its cadre of up-and-coming contenders who would be ripe for a run this time, former Virginia Gov. and U.S. Sen. George Allen among them.
Donatelli sums it up with this: "We have a shortage of candidates."
The argument goes that the party's rising stars and future candidates are governors and senators elected in the past two years in elections in which Republicans performed strongly, a junior varsity bench that will be ready for the big leagues in four years.
But first, the party must get through the 2012 elections. And the decisions by Republicans who have chosen not to run have created voids in the field, stirring talk anew of others to recruit into the race.
Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, the 2008 victor in the Iowa caucuses, the first test of a presidential election season, opted out last weekend. His absence means social conservative and evangelical Christians have no obvious candidate to rally around.
Days later, real estate developer Trump chose to continue hosting "Celebrity Apprentice" instead of running for president. He never was a serious contender, but ultraconservative tea partyers gravitated toward a potential candidate who was fearless in lobbing no-holds-barred criticism at Obama.
The field now lacks a verbal bomb-thrower.
In April, Mississippi Gov. Barbour bowed out at the last minute after putting everything necessary in place for a campaign, surprising even aides. He said he lacked the "fire in the belly" necessary to run.
His decision means no Southerner is running unless Georgian Gingrich puts his name on the ballot.
Earlier, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a Midwesterner with solid conservative credentials, took a pass, choosing to take a leadership post in the Senate perhaps with an eye toward 2016. And Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a hero to social conservatives, decided to run for governor of his home state.
More decisions by Republicans considering bids, especially Indiana Gov. Daniels, will come shortly, which should further clarify a Republican field that is only just starting to come into focus. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Rep. Ron Paul already are in the mix, and others could be soon.
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ Liz Sidoti has covered national politics for The Associated Press since 2003.