Does Starting this Early Give Romney an Edge?

Ben Smith earlier this week:

My instinct on the 2012 Republican field, with its crop of half-in-half-out governors, is that the people who are unambiguously angling for the job -- at this point, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee -- have a certain advantage.

I don't see it. There is simply very little real indication that candidates who start "unambiguously" running in the days and weeks after a President is inaugurated actually have an edge over those who get into the race later.

Having recently finished reading What it Takes, the outstanding book on the 1988 primaries, I do remember that presumptive Democratic favorite Gary Hart was pushed out of the race long before the first vote was cast and that Dick Gephardt, who had begun staking out Iowa in 1985, won that state and just about only that state.

Thinking back even just the past few years, it's not hard to remember that the big winners on the Republican side during the run up to 2008 were not the candidates with the strongest organizations, whether within a state or around the country, but rather a woefully underfunded former Governor (Mike Huckabee) and a big name who by the time voters were going to the polls had only about enough money to fly himself from state to state (John McCain). Mitt Romney, who started early and invested tens of millions of his own dollars didn't win, nor did Rudy Giuliani, whose endorsements and $59 million raised earned him a single delegate at the Republican National Convention.

This isn't to say that starting early is going to inhibit a candidate, Romney or otherwise. What's more, there have certainly been cases where the candidate organized earliest has won (though that has tended to be in cases where the candidate is an heir apparent like Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000). But the idea that those clearly in the race today have a real advantage seems like a conclusion based on common wisdom rather than actual reality, and I would be fairly surprised to see the eventual GOP field devoid of some strong late-breaking entrants.

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Because What the GOP Needs is a Career Lobbyist...

It must be great news for Republicans!

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will make a trip to Iowa in late June, a visit sure to stoke talk of a potential 2012 bid by the Magnolia State Republican.

Barbour will headline a Republican Party of Iowa fundraiser on June 25, according to a report on the Iowa Republican blog.

[...]

Barbour is widely seen as one of the most able -- if not the most able -- political strategist within the party and is being looked to in the wake of two straight devastating electoral defeats as the man with a plan to bring Republicans back from the brink of powerless minority status.

Haley Barbour might be a very able politician -- but he certainly has been one heck of a career lobbyist.

It seems hard to imagine that in the age of Jack Abramoff, being a former lobbyist may be a good thing for a politician. But the back-slapping prowess of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a Republican who is legendary on K Street, Washington's Great White Way of influence peddling, has proved invaluable to this storm-rattled state.

While Barbour might be able to win the support of the folks back home by using his deep expertise in the business of lobbying to squeeze out as many federal dollars as his state can possibly garner, Barbour has also taken steps as Governor of Mississippi that have, to paint it in the most favorable light possible, not at all been incongruous with the interests of his former clients.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, won a long battle in court to withdraw all funding for Mississippi's highly successful anti-smoking program, and last week the last dollar ran out.

"This is truly a case of one man, a longtime tobacco industry lobbyist, using his power to destroy a program that was reducing tobacco use among Mississippi's kids," said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national nonprofit organization.

If the Republicans really think that their road back into power runs through nominating a career lobbyist to be their standard bearer, then all the better for them. But if Barack Obama isn't already ahead in the race for 2012, then I have a feeling than having as his opponent a man like Barbour who symbolizes the types of problems so rampant in Washington prior to his inauguration as President would make his task of earning a second term in office that much easier.

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Ensign Raising Profile for Presidential Bid?

This news from Congress Daily a couple weeks back perked up my ears:

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will make his first political appearance in Iowa this spring, a move that will stoke speculation about his political future, given the state's reputation as a launching pad for national politicians. American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4), signed Ensign to speak June 1 as part of a new lecture series featuring conservative leaders. Ensign will speak in Sioux City, long a hotbed of conservative political activity.

Politicians know what it means to make trips to Iowa to give big speeches, so you can't say that John Ensign isn't trying to stoke some speculation that he is looking to potentially run in 2012. And politicians certainly know what it means to flail wildly in attacks on a very popular President to score points with the base of their own party, too.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, told CNN Sunday it was "irresponsible" for President Obama to have been seen "laughing and joking" with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas on Friday.

[...]

In the interview with CNN, Ensign was also sharply critical of the Obama administration for releasing previously classified CIA memos outlining Bush-era interrogation techniques.

"What the president has done is he has sent a fear throughout the intelligence community that they could be prosecuted in the future," Ensign said. "And that is exactly the kind of fear that paralyzed the intelligence community prior to September 11. I think America is less safe because of the release of these memos," he said.

"Irresponsible.""Less safe." These aren't just the words of the Senate's most conservative member -- not when combined with a forthcoming trip to Iowa. No, Ensign thinks that he can sow the seeds for a potential White House bid by throwing big words at President Obama and by speaking to the few remaining faithful in Iowa (and there are relatively few, considering that 145.6 percent more Iowans participated in last year's Democratic caucuses than in the Republican caucuses and that John McCain lost the state by nine and a half points last year).

Well, if Ensign's presidential ambitions go any bit as well as his tenure as chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2006 cycle, when his party lost all but one of the seriously contested Senate elections around the country to a Democratic Party few thought had much of any shot of retaking the Senate, then this should be fun to watch.

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No, Blocking Franken Isn't a Win-Win for Pawlenty

Some convoluted reasoning from Chris Cillizza:

Seen through the 2012-only lens, Pawlenty's current position [as "staunch defender of Coleman's right to continue his legal appeals despite his 312 vote deficit"] looks more like a win-win.

Assuming he doesn't plan to run for reelection, Pawlenty can refuse to sign the election certificate for Franken -- if Coleman wants to take the legal fight federal -- and continue to raise his national profile by arguing (in his low key, inoffensive way) on a variety of televisions outlets that he is simply trying to ensure no legitimate votes are left uncounted, a GREAT issue for him in the eyes of GOP base voters.

And, if Coleman ends his appeal after if he loses at the state Supreme Court level, Pawlenty has seen his national profile raised as a defender of voters' rights without any serious backlash in the state.

"It's a net positive for him, especially nationally," said one senior Republican strategist. "He has a solid position: He has consistently said he wants to see the legal process completely played out to ensure no voter is disenfranchised and the actual winner is sent to DC."

To this point, Pawlenty has nicely played out a tricky political situation to his benefit, a deftness that speaks well of his potential as a national candidate in 2012.

Only inside the Beltway could it be believed that service as an obstructionist hyper-partisan hack forwards a politician's presidential ambitions. Just ask Bob Dole how easy it was for him to shake off the "hatchet man" label bestowed on him in 1971 by fellow Republican Senator William Saxbe or live down his own comments in the 1976 Vice Presidential debates about 1.6 million Americans dying in "Democrat wars" of the 20th century. (He was still fighting off this public perception during the 1996 general election.)

No, while Tim Pawlenty plays his partisan fiddle in the Minnesota Senate recount symphony, his state has been metaphorically burning with only one Senator for months. It's not as if Norm Coleman's chances of overtaking Al Franken's lead were great or even mediocre at the get-go of these seemingly unending legal proceedings -- through which time Pawlently has toed his party's line to the detriment of his state, which is without half of its representation in the Senate. By this point, Coleman's hopes are close to nil, yet Pawlenty still continues to flak for the former Senator and the Republican Party.

I'm not suggesting that being a partisan hack is necessarily a bad thing for a career politician like Pawlenty in a Republican primary. But to suggest that placing party over state and country is a "win-win" for Pawlenty ignores a key fact about American elections -- the primary isn't the only election, and the excessively partisan don't tend to do well in general elections. So while Cillizza might not believe it, there are real downsides to Pawlenty's current course of action.

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Politico: Jindal Says He's Not Interested in 2012 Run

Ben Smith reports:

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, seen by many Republicans as the most promising standard-bearer for a remade party, said at a Richmond, Va press conference that he isn't running for president in 2012.

At a news conference Wednesday with Bob McDonnell, Virginia's 2009 Republican candidate for governor, Jindal was asked if he was interested in being president, AP reports.

His answer: "No."

Jindal said he's planning to run for reelection in 2011, something that would make pivoting to a national campaign logistically and politically tricky.

I'm not sure this is a hard no. For one, Bobby Jindal isn't categorically ruling out a run, only saying he's not interested in running. (Politicians have wiggled out of tighter squeezes than that in the past.) Moreover, it's not clear to me that running for reelection in 2011 would preclude Jindal from running in 2012. Smith is correct that the pivot would be difficult -- but I don't see it as an impossible one. Remember, Mike Huckabee was able to come in second in the 2008 Republican primaries despite effectively having no national organization, and John McCain won despite having run out of money and drastically downsizing his campaign a half year before voters went to the polls. If they were able to pull off these feats in 2008, it's not clear to me Jindal couldn't -- particularly following a successful reelection bid that could garner him some momentum and attention.

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