Senator John Ensign of Nevada is coming to northwest Iowa today for stops at Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux Center and the famous ice cream shop in Le Mars before he delivers a speech in Sioux City.
The American Future Fund invited Ensign as part of a lecture series, and American Future Fund spokesman Tim Albrecht spoke to Radio Iowa about him:
Albrecht describes the 51-year-old Ensign as a "strong" conservative.
"I think that Senator Ensign will be able to introduce himself to a group of active conservatives who are thirsty for a new voice, a new person, to really pick up the banner and carry it on their behalf," Albrecht says.
Are conservatives "thirsty for a new voice," as in someone who hasn't already run for president? The Republican Party has a history of nominating presidential candidates on their second or third try: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain.
Ensign looks like a fairly generic Republican to me. He would need to do something to distinguish himself in the next few years to avoid becoming the Sam Brownback or Tommy Thompson of 2012.
UPDATE: Ensign gave Iowa Politics an interview:
"I'm not running for president," said Ensign, who's chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "What I'm doing is raising my profile. I believe we need new voices and fresh voices in the Republican Party who can articulate a message of our core Republican principles."
More thoughts on likely Republican presidential candidates are after the jump.
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.
And Romney, in particular, is continuing to do what you do if you're running for president: avoid cable overexposure and build an intellectual and policy infrastructure to lean on later.
Although I think Romney might have performed better against Barack Obama than McCain did, I find it hard to see a path to the 2012 nomination for him. I don't expect him to win Iowa, and he might not even compete seriously here. His 2008 Iowa campaign chairman, Doug Gross, predicted last November,
"We've gone so far to the social right, particularly in caucus attendees, that unless you meet certain litmus tests you have a very difficult time competing in Iowa," said Doug Gross, the party's 2002 gubernatorial nominee. "I think you'll have some candidates who won't compete here unless they perceive that's somehow changed."
David Roederer, who headed John McCain's Iowa campaign, agreed."I would not encourage a moderate to come right now and participate in the caucuses," Roederer said. "It is a danger for the party, and it is a danger for the future of the caucuses."
Gross expressed his concern somewhat differently during a May 22 appearance on Iowa Public Television:
if just a handful of social conservatives dominate our caucuses there will be candidates who skip Iowa, that will not be good for the Iowa caucuses and I'm hopeful that won't happen.
If Romney couldn't win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 as a prohibitive favorite for most of the previous year, I don't see him coming from behind to win in 2012. He could try skipping Iowa, but he didn't win the New Hampshire primary in 2008 either.
Mike Huckabee is keeping up his national profile with a weekly show on the Fox network. He's also keeping up his contacts in Iowa and will headline a June 10 fundraiser for 2010 gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats in Spirit Lake. I'll be interested to see how many of his 2008 caucus supporters stick with him if he runs again.
Huckabee continues to advocate for the "Fair Tax" that would replace income and other taxes with a 30 percent sales tax (yes, 30 percent, not the 23 percent figure used by supporters). If he remains the only candidate in the Republican field to support the Fair Tax, that will help him in the conservative grassroots.
However, I think the business wing of the Republican Party will make sure Huckabee never wins a presidential nomination. A blogger supporting Mitt Romney compiled this incredibly long list of prominent conservatives who opposed Huckabee in late 2007. I don't think many on that list would come around to supporting Huckabee by 2011. This document from the Club for Growth lays out the corporate Republican case against Huckabee. I'm not surprised they can't stand the guy.
The business wing of the GOP might not always get its favorite presidential candidate, but I believe they will have the power to stop their least favorite. Which is to say that I don't see strong prospects for Huckabee.
I'm inclined to agree with Jonathan Singer, who expects "some strong late-breaking entrants" in the GOP field. Who might that be?
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is coming to Iowa on June 25 for a Republican Party fundraiser. I can't imagine him ever gaining traction in a presidential race.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says he's not running. Even if he changes his mind, it will be hard for him to juggle running for re-election as governor in 2011 with a presidential candidacy.
I haven't heard much lately about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's plans for 2012. She drew big crowds during her Iowa stops in the fall of 2008. I would expect her and Huckabee to be competing for the same type of Republican voters.
Newt Gingrich has admitted he's thinking about running in 2012. He has a huge fundraising operation at his American Solutions organization and has kept a high profile on national news and analytical programs. Gingrich has been loudly calling Judge Sotomayor a racist, probably to bolster his credentials with the conservative base; Senate Republicans will almost certainly fail to stop her from being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The policy agenda Gingrich pushes through American Solutions suggests that he would keep a strong focus on economic (not social) issues as a presidential candidate. It's just as well, since I don't think a man who's dumped two wives would get far campaigning on morality. But I'm skeptical that the Republican base, especially in Iowa, is ready for a presidential candidate who downplays social issues.
What did I get wrong, and who did I leave out? Step right up and post your own comments and speculation.
LATE UPDATE on June 3: I should also have mentioned Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is not running for re-election in 2010. That will leave him plenty of time to run for president. I see him ending up like Tommy Thompson.
Some commenters at other sites thought I should mention South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as well. If the shrinking Republican Party wants to nominate a southern governor, that's fine by me. I don't think it would easy for him to win the nomination, since his candidacy would take the South Carolina primary off the table. I don't know where his power base would be in other early primary and caucus states.