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)
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

What We're Following See More »
Trump Inauguration Spending Now Under Investigation
34 minutes ago

"Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said. The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions."

Federal Judges Nix Proposed Atlantic Pipeline
1 hours ago

In a rare rebuke to energy companies in the Trump era, "a panel of federal judges has rejected permits for the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian trail in Virginia, finding that the national Forest Service 'abdicated its responsibility' and kowtowed to private industry in approving the project. The harshly worded, 60-page decision issued Thursday by three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is part of a string of legal setbacks for the 600-mile pipeline. The $7 billion project, being built by a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy, is planned to carry natural gas from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina."

Senate Moves to End Support for Saudi War
2 hours ago
Federal Judge Upholds Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine
4 hours ago

"A federal judge on Thursday rejected Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s constitutional claims against ranked-choice voting and denied the incumbent’s request for a new election against Democratic Congressman-elect Jared Golden. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled that, contrary to the arguments of Poliquin’s legal team, the U.S. Constitution does not require that whichever congressional candidates receives the most votes—or 'a plurality'—be declared the winner. Instead, Walker ruled the Constitution grants states broad discretion to run elections."

Mueller Probing Middle East Countries' Influence Campaigns
5 hours ago

Officials working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics, and are set to release the findings in early 2019. "Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel ... Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran." Investigators are also probing meetings organized by Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, and Joel Zamel, "a self-styled Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world with deep ties to Israeli intelligence."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.