Republicans need a fresh candidate to do well in 2012

Daniels, Pawlenty, and Thune will give Romney and Huckabee a run for the GOP ticket

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: This column incorrectly states that Tim Pawlenty was the current governor of Minnesota as of its publication on Jan. 12. Mark Dayton succeeded Pawlenty as governor on Jan. 3.

Intrade.com is an online prediction market that tracks, among other things, U.S. politics. In the aftermath of a bruising defeat of Congressional Democrats, Intrade predicts more of the same in 2012. The market currently gives Republicans a 3 in 5 chance of retaining control of their newly acquired House, and roughly a 2 in 3 chance of taking or tying the Senate.

Despite giving several buy recommendations on Republican futures, Intrade’s markets are bearish on at least one GOP prospect: the White House. Even as Intrade views Democrats dimly, Obama is given a 57 percent chance of serving a second term.

Perhaps Intrade credits the GOP’s lack of presidential chances to the potential candidacy of Sarah Palin. According to the market, the former Alaskan governor has an 11 percent chance of winning the nomination, but a recent CNN poll has her losing to Obama 52-44 in a nation-wide matchup.

However, the Palin-spoiler effect alone does not seem to be enough to explain a 57-43 advantage. After all, the same CNN poll has Obama trailing against other Republican hopefuls — Mitt Romney has Obama by 5 points, Mike Huckabee by 8. More likely, it’s not just particularly bad candidates like Mrs. Palin that Intrade believes will lose to Obama, but most of the current field.

With that thought in mind, here are three Republicans you likely haven’t heard of that will certainly run in 2012 and that the GOP should give serious thought to before handing the reins to Mitt Romney.

Mitch Daniels

Who he is: A former director of the Office of Management and Budget, a graduate of both Princeton and Georgetown, and the current (and popular) governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels is an accomplished budget balancer. Nicknamed “The Blade” by Bush during his budget cutting days in Washington, as governor Daniels turned a $800m deficit into a $1.3b surplus from 2004-2008.

Why he might lose: Daniels is a thoughtful and articulate public speaker, but the 61-year old Arab American lacks the mob-rallying charisma that is normally associated with presidential runs. Nominally, he hews to socially conservative views, but Daniels is clearly uncomfortable with social issues, which will make it difficult for him to draw social conservatives to the polls. Moreover, Daniels has frequently stated that tax increases may be necessary to balance the federal budget — not a surprising admission to the political center, but apostasy to many of the voters he will need to win primaries.

Why he should run: Mitch Daniels is a singularly competent budget wonk. The odds are good that the federal deficit will be the number one issue on voters minds in 2012, and Daniels’ resume reads like he was built in a lab to tackle just such a problem. His willingness to compromise will not endear him to Tea Party types today, but give it time — after a year or so of frustrating battles in Congress, Daniels will look less like a fiscal turncoat and more like the man for the job, not just to the Tea Party, but to the nation.

Tim Pawlenty

Who he is: “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan” and current governor of that state, Pawlenty has been a long time legislator and successful moderate-conservative governor in a liberal state. He was elected in 2002 to balance his state’s budget without raising taxes, and delivered on that promise, overcoming a deeply reluctant state legislature. He was frequently discussed as a vice presidential pick in 2008.

Why he might lose: Although as governor Pawlenty has not endorsed big ticket policy items that would require an embarrassing reversal in the Republican primaries (the executive summary of why Mitt Romney failed in his 2008 run), Pawlenty is still a somewhat awkward fit for a Tea Party dominated GOP. He also lacks foreign policy credentials and national experience, which his opponent will have in spades after having served four years in the White House.

Why he should run: Pawlenty has executive ability and a strong reputation for budget cutting, but his main asset is the ability to inspiringly deliver the conservative message without resorting to the extremes of rhetoric that turn off centrists. Wit, passion, and a talent for retail politics — more so than any policy mix — may prove to be just what the party needs to unite its disparate poles.

John Thune

Who he is: The junior senator from South Dakota, Thune earned his seat in a tough campaign against former Democratic powerhouse Tom Daschle. Thune is recognized as the winner of the “invisible primary” — if the next presidential candidate were hand picked by party leaders, Thune would head the GOP’s 2012 ticket. He has built a funding network, gathered together a team of operatives, and earned the backing of several high-level Republicans (many of them his friends in the Senate) — only Romney will go into the race better armed than Thune.

Why he might lose: if John Thune wins the nomination, Republicans would have to hope for a right wing wave or a left wing gaffe to squeak the South Dakotan past Obama. Thune is a highly competent candidate, but his politics, even amid today’s conservative resurgence, are quite a bit to the right of the American public. He has been deeply conservative during his time in the Senate (in 2009 he was ranked the sixth-most conservative senator), and is unlikely to pick up much of the political center in a nationwide election.

Why he should run: Thune might be next to hopeless as a presidential prospect, but his spot atop the ticket will give a two or three point boost to every conservative running in every race in the nation. Thune’s conservative bona fides are strong enough to bring out the Republican base in droves, but to liberals he comes off as genial Midwesterner — Democrats might not like his policies, but they’ll have a hard time building Thune into the sort of bogey man that will bring their own flock to the polls. The disparity in turnout between the bases might not mean much to Thune, who will surrender independents (and the election) to Obama, but for every Republican sitting down ticket of him, the advantage of having their side turnout while the opposition sits at home will be pronounced.