If the South Dakota senator decides to jump into the presidential race, he will compete with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be seen as the leading mainstream alternative to Romney. Thune's strengths include his telegenic looks, sunny demeanor and conservative record. Although South Dakota does not provide him with a large home-state fundraising base, Thune developed a 100,000-person fundraising list by knocking off longtime Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in 2004. While Thune has avoided the high-profile political travel of Romney and Pawlenty, look for him to start traveling the country on behalf of Republican Senate candidates once South Dakota's March 30 filing deadline passes and he does not draw a significant challenger. Given the geographic location of South Dakota, some of Thune's television ads for the Senate have aired in the western part of Iowa, giving him early exposure in the state, which holds the first presidential nominating contest.
Con: As a sitting United States senator, Thune is not able to tell a story of having achieved results outside of Washington the way the former governors in the field can do. He also worked for a short period of time as a lobbyist. And it's still not clear that Thune has the same fire in the belly as Romney or Pawlenty.
The Mississippi governor is widely seen as the savviest Republican strategist in elected office. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour led his party to wins in 2009 in Virginia and New Jersey. Barbour, who served as political director in the Reagan White House, is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). During his tenure at the RNC, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. As governor of Mississippi, Barbour earned high marks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. If Barbour enters the race, his folksy and homespun style could prove popular in the early nominating states.
Con: Barbour's biggest weakness may be cosmetic. He himself has joked with friends that a "fat boy from the South is not going to get elected president in 2012." Another strike against him is his background as a Washington lobbyist at a time when the public seems to be in revolt against "business as usual."
The House Republican Conference Chairman from Indiana is currently trying to decide between running for the Senate against Democrat Evan Bayh in 2010 or running for president in 2012. While Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts may suggest that this is a good year to run for the Senate, one advantage to running for president is that Pence would not have to give up his House seat if he were unsuccessful in the GOP primaries. The congressman's core strength is that he is a full-spectrum conservative. Pence, who opens meetings with a prayer, connects well with conservative Christians. At the same time, he differs from Mike Huckabee in that he is not saddled with a history of having gone along with higher taxes. As a former radio broadcaster, Pence also is adept at communicating in soundbites.
Con: As a sitting House member, Pence suffers from a political stature problem. The last House member to go directly to the White House was President James Garfield.