MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Romney, Perry – ho-hum. Give us Christie or Palin – anybody other than the current cast of GOP presidential candidates.
Walk the halls of Republican gatherings in Florida and Michigan this weekend and you’ll likely hear such rumblings of discontent. The GOP faithful are unsettled by the prospect that their field is settled.
“We’re still hungry for something better,” said Cheryl Ulsh, a tea party Republican from Kalamazoo, Mich, attending a GOP conference at this island resort. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had just addressed the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, leaving Ulsh and many others less than sated.
Now, take a breath. This is nothing new. During nearly every presidential election, there comes a time when the party out of power takes one last look at its presidential field—and grimaces.
It happened in 1992, when Democrats convinced themselves that Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and his rivals couldn’t defeat President George H.W. Bush. It happened in 1999, when Republicans worried that they had rushed too quickly to coronate Bush’s son, George W. Bush. And it happened in 2008, when Democrats dragged out their primary fight because of doubts about Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s readiness for the 3 a.m. telephone call.
It’s happening now. And chances are better than not that the GOP field will remain as is—and will produce a nominee who seriously threatens Obama’s second-term ambitions.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus seemed to attempt Saturday to calm jittery GOP activists. “There is no such thing as an absolutely perfect candidate,” he said. “Only one perfect person walked this earth.”
And his name wasn’t Rick Perry. The Texas governor delivered a workmanlike address Saturday that drew a subtle distinction with his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In doing so, Perry highlighted the fact that both he and Romney are candidates with vulnerabilities. “Yep, there may be slicker candidates and smoother debaters,” Perry said, “but I know where I stand.” Later, Perry was dealt a blow to his fragile front-runner status when he finished third in a Florida straw poll despite campaigning at the Orlando gathering.
In the hallways and coffee shops of the Grand Hotel, the chatter was all about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Several news organizations speculated in thinly sourced stories Saturday that he might enter the race despite vowing repeatedly not to do so.
“I’d like to get see Chris Christie get in,” said Joanne Voorhees of Wyoming, Mich. “He’s a maverick and we need a maverick—somebody who speaks strongly and boldly.”
Also waiting in the wings: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who has repeatedly pushed back the timing of her decision on whether to run or not.
Voorhees conceded that she would be happy with Perry or Romney, and that she didn’t expect Christie to enter the race. “I’m still shopping,” she said.
Interviews with more than two dozen other delegates suggest that Republicans are suffering from what Andy Munro called “the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome.” The delegate from Birmingham, Mich., said Romney, Perry and the other GOP candidates suffer by comparison to the overwrought expectations invested in an unannounced candidates.
“Once somebody gets in,” he warned, “we’ll look at them differently.”
Munro had many kindred spirits in Florida, where a separate convention of GOP faithful vowed to defeat Obama.
"I think we have what we're looking for,'' said Travis Hall, a 34-year-old business owner from Florida's Panhandle. "I don't know if Christie would add anything. I think we need to focus on the candidates we have.''
Even if, as the GOP chairman says, none of them are perfect.
Beth Reinhard contributed from Orlando, Fla.