Presidential Power Rankings

Second Edition

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town meeting at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
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Feb. 2, 2011, 4:33 p.m.

Here we are, a year be­fore the first caucuses and primar­ies, and to our stunned sur­prise, not a single pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate has made his or her cam­paign of­fi­cial. But be­hind the scenes, the in­vis­ible primary is well un­der way, as can­did­ates hit the trail and so­li­cit sup­port. We’re track­ing the key play­ers and moves to an­swer the ques­tion: Who is best po­si­tioned to win the 2012 Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion?

We rank the top 15 GOP con­tenders us­ing four cri­ter­ia:

  • Money: How much do they have? How much can they raise?
  • Cam­paign in­fra­struc­ture: Do they have the abil­ity to as­semble a com­pet­it­ive and com­pet­ent staff, both at the na­tion­al and state levels?
  • Strengths: What is­sue(s) can the can­did­ate truly hang their hat on? Is there a spe­cif­ic area of ex­pert­ise they can sell to voters? Do they have a strong track re­cord on one par­tic­u­lar is­sue?
  • Weak­nesses: Every can­did­ate has one — heck, most can­did­ates have plenty — and the real­ity is that even­tu­ally they will have to ad­dress them. This will be easi­er for some con­tenders than oth­ers: Ex­plain­ing away one vote for bad le­gis­la­tion is far easi­er than jus­ti­fy­ing a ma­jor mor­al lapse or some fatally flawed ex­ec­ut­ive de­cision. At the end of the day, some can­did­ates will have weak­nesses, and oth­ers will have al­batrosses. It’s the lat­ter group who should be wor­ried.

Who’s trend­ing since our first edi­tion of PPR:

RISING: Mitch Daniels, Jim De­Mint, Mike Hucka­bee, Ron Paul, Rick San­tor­um
FALL­ING: Haley Bar­bour, Sarah Pal­in, John Thune
AR­RIVALS: Michele Bach­mann, Her­man Cain, Rudy Gi­uliani, Jon Hunts­man
DE­PAR­TURES: Chris Christie, Bobby Jin­dal, Mike Pence, Rick Perry

MITT ROM­NEY (pre­vi­ous rank: 1)
Rom­ney re­mains the front-run­ner largely be­cause no one has chal­lenged him head-on. In fact, he’s barely been heard from in the last few months, save for a few news­pa­per op-eds. That suits him just fine; the less time any­one has to knock him down a peg or two, the bet­ter his chances at the nom­in­a­tion. Still, ser­i­ous ideo­lo­gic­al ques­tions lurk just be­low the sur­face, sure to be ex­ploited by Rom­ney’s rivals. TIM PAWLENTY (pre­vi­ous rank: 2)
No can­did­ate is more ser­i­ously put­ting to­geth­er a ground op­er­a­tion than Pawlenty, and his new stump speech ad­dresses ques­tions about a per­ceived lack of pas­sion on the trail. T-Paw’s book tour is earn­ing him fans and giv­ing him a second chance to in­tro­duce him­self to voters who might have yawned when they at­ten­ded his first ad­dress. MIKE HUCKA­BEE (pre­vi­ous rank: 5)
If Hucka­bee runs, he can win Iowa, com­pete in South Car­o­lina, and put to­geth­er a co­ali­tion of so­cial con­ser­vat­ives that no one else can match. But he’s not show­ing a lot of leg. We hear from act­iv­ists on the ground that Hucka­bee has no pres­ence in early-primary states, a troub­ling sign when even Sarah Pal­in is trolling for sup­port. Huck is a ma­jor po­ten­tial play­er in the top tier — but he’s saddled with the ‘po­ten­tial’ la­bel un­til he starts act­ing like a real can­did­ate. JOHN THUNE (pre­vi­ous rank: 3)
Thune might ap­pear less en­am­ored of the idea of run­ning for pres­id­ent now than he did six months ago, but he’s mak­ing phone calls that in­dic­ate the door isn’t closed yet. Thune was mak­ing calls to prom­in­ent strategists in key early states as late as Septem­ber. Then those calls ab­ruptly stopped. Tak­ing a pass makes sense: Pres­id­ent Obama is look­ing stronger; why not wait him out and run in 2016? MITCH DANIELS (pre­vi­ous rank: 9)
Daniels has per­haps the best re­cord of turn­ing around a state, but he stumbled early with his pro­posed truce on so­cial is­sues. That’s com­ing back to haunt him this month when he ad­dresses the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, an event that’s be­com­ing a tinder­box for reas­ons not en­tirely with­in Daniels’s con­trol. Still, the pro­spect of a Daniels bid gets a warm wel­come in top GOP circles. HALEY BAR­BOUR (pre­vi­ous rank: 4)
Bar­bour’s com­ments about his ho­met­own’s his­tory dur­ing the civil rights era didn’t do him any fa­vors. In fact, it may qual­i­fy as the first ma­jor gaffe of the 2012 race. But it didn’t kill Bar­bour’s chances. He went to South Car­o­lina to meet with donors last week, and his team has met to dis­cuss the strategy sur­round­ing a bid. But every strategist we talk with brings up the dreaded “L” word: lob­by­ist. NEWT GIN­GRICH (pre­vi­ous rank: 7)
Gin­grich has wanted to run for pres­id­ent since be­com­ing speak­er in 1995. After a few false starts, he’s look­ing pretty ser­i­ous this time out. Al­lies have been asked to keep their powder dry, and Gin­grich is col­lect­ing en­dorse­ments and shop­ping for of­fice space. But wait­ing nearly a gen­er­a­tion to make a move means there’s a lot of new tal­ent in a space Gin­grich once oc­cu­pied by him­self; that could ul­ti­mately be his down­fall. SARAH PAL­IN (pre­vi­ous rank: 6)
There is a grow­ing con­sensus among blog­ging heads that Pal­in’s poll num­bers are bad enough to end her chances in a gen­er­al elec­tion. There are an in­creas­ing num­ber of Pal­in apo­lo­gists, and even fans, who ad­ore her per­son­ally but say they wouldn’t vote for her. Once Pal­in loses her base, she is as good as toast. Her tone-deaf re­ac­tion to the Tuc­son, Ar­iz., shoot­ings may ul­ti­mately be the mo­ment she slipped out of con­ten­tion for good. JON HUNTS­MAN (new to rank­ings)
Hunts­man floated his name with un­char­ac­ter­ist­ic trans­par­ency, let­ting it be known he shouldn’t be over­looked. But he’s taken a few strange ini­tial steps ““- first tak­ing a job in Pres­id­ent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, then buy­ing a house in Wash­ing­ton at a time when D.C. is the last im­age any­one wants to pro­ject. Hunts­man is a re­l­at­ive cent­rist, and if he tries to oc­cupy that po­s­i­tion by him­self he has a nar­row, but real, path to vic­tory. RICK SAN­TOR­UM (pre­vi­ous rank: 13)
At the mo­ment, there aren’t all that many can­did­ates act­ively hit­ting the trail. San­tor­um is one, and he’s ac­tu­ally mak­ing pro­gress, hir­ing a well-re­garded staffer in New Hamp­shire and the be­gin­nings of a cam­paign team in Iowa. He re­mains a long shot, and act­iv­ists are cog­niz­ant of the way he left of­fice in 2006. Still, the fact that he’s ac­tu­ally vis­it­ing Iowa and New Hamp­shire counts for something. JIM DE­MINT (pre­vi­ous rank: 14)
Jim De­Mint is no one’s vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee. He’s prob­ably not the fu­ture GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee either, but his repu­ta­tion with the party’s act­iv­ist base means he’s go­ing to play a big role in the 2012 pro­cess — even if he’s not a can­did­ate. We wouldn’t be sur­prised to see a draft move­ment some­time soon. MICHELE BACH­MANN (new to rank­ings)
Bach­mann has carved a niche for her­self, and if any­thing, she would be­ne­fit the most if Pal­in de­cides not to run. Bach­mann will vis­it Iowa again in March, and her massive bank ac­count makes her someone to con­tend with. But we still see her as a more likely Sen­ate can­did­ate than a pres­id­en­tial con­tender. Watch how Min­nesota le­gis­lat­ors draw dis­trict lines to get an early idea which way she’s lean­ing. RON PAUL (pre­vi­ous rank: 15)
No one will ever be able to ac­cuse Paul of stick­ing his fin­ger in the wind. He leads, and if no one fol­lows, he’s hardly de­terred. Des­pite the sturm und drang of the 2008 cam­paign, not that many people ac­tu­ally did fol­low. He may vis­it Iowa now and then, but Ron Paul is not go­ing to be the 2012 pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee. HER­MAN CAIN (new to rank­ings)
Cain is the only can­did­ate who has filed pa­pers to ex­plore the race. He is little-known, and un­likely to make it past the very be­gin­ning stages of the con­test, but at least he’s in and cam­paign­ing. He’ll do well in any de­bates in which he’s in­cluded, too; Cain has per­haps the best present­a­tion skills of any­one out­side Hucka­bee. RUDY GI­ULIANI (new to rank­ings)
Gi­uliani is the most pop­u­lar Re­pub­lic­an who can nev­er win the party’s nom­in­a­tion. He backed away again and again from mak­ing a stand in 2008, and by the time he did, oth­er can­did­ates had the mo­mentum. Gi­uliani is talk­ing about mak­ing an­oth­er run, and we hear he’d like to do so. But cool­er heads are try­ing to talk him down.

ON THE BUBBLE: Bobby Jin­dal, Gary John­son, George Pa­taki, Rick Perry, Don­ald Trump

Pho­tos (top to bot­tom):
Rom­ney: Getty/Chip So­mod­ev­illa
Pawlenty: Getty/Chip So­mod­ev­illa
Hucka­bee: AFP/Getty/Toshi­fumi Kit­amura
Thune: Liz LynchӬ
Daniels: Liz LynchӬ
Bar­bour: Liz Lynch”¨
Gin­grich: Getty/Chip So­mod­ev­illa”¨
Pal­in: Getty/Wil­li­am Thomas Cain
Hunts­man: AFP/Getty/Liu Jin
San­tor­um: Getty/Chip So­mod­ev­illa
De­Mint: Getty/Chip So­mod­ev­illa
Bach­mann: Getty/Mark Wilson
Paul: Getty/Alex Wong
Cain: Getty/Brendan Smia­lowski
Gi­uliani: Getty/Chris Hon­dros

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