'World News' Political Insights: Missteps Mark Early Phase of 2012 Primary Fight

Republicans Rocky Start
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In a presidential campaign that's taking its time to develop, one possible candidate found an unlikely opponent last week.

Mike Huckabee, the former and possibly future presidential candidate, suggested to a radio interviewer that new Oscar winner Natalie Portman -- a 29-year-old actress who plans on marrying the father of her unborn child -- was out to "glamorize" unwed motherhood.

"People see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, you know, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine,' " said Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas.

The comments came the same day as another head-scratcher from Huckabee, when he wrongly asserted that President Obama was raised in Kenya. He later said he misspoke.

Both sets of remarks are the kinds of mistakes top-tier presidential candidates can't afford to make.

They're emblematic of a larger problem facing Republican presidential candidates this year: Would-be 2012ers are making unforced errors in the early going of a race against an incumbent who's looking stronger as the election year approaches.

So far, the field has been more remarkable for who's not running than for who is. This time four years ago, with both parties' nominations wide open, some 17 candidates had taken formal steps to run for president; one had even declared his candidacy and dropped out.

This year, only two Republicans -- long-shot candidates Herman Cain, a former Godfather's Pizza executive, and Buddy Roemer, who was governor of Louisiana 20 years ago -- have gone so far as to organize presidential exploratory committees.

Last week looked like it would bring a third such announcement. But Newt Gingrich -- who flirted with running but declined in previous cycles -- wound up announcing only that he was a launching a new Web site that would help him "look at this very seriously."

The sequence of events -- including mixed signals from the former House speaker's own aides on what last week would bring -- contributed to a perception of disorganization inside Gingrich's emerging campaign.

It could all be forgotten by the time the campaign starts in earnest. But any extra bounce he may have gotten for being the first serious candidate in the race appears likely to be lost in the confusion of what he's announcing and when he's announcing it.

Why the late start? One big factor is the spiraling cost of building out a national campaign. The last cycle, with its wild gyrations, confirmed a sense that organizing early is both expensive and risky, since it gives opponents longer to take aim.

Another factor is the perceived political strength of the president, who appeared far more vulnerable after the midterm "shellacking" than he does after a few months of Republican control of Congress.

Several Republicans once considered potential contenders, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, have declared they won't be running for president.

Meanwhile, the Republican field is beginning to take shape. One of the traditional "cattle call" events is taking place for Republicans this weekend in Florida, with former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota joining Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi attending a meeting of fiscal conservative group Club for Growth.

Romney used this weekend to make his first trip to New Hampshire since the midterms. He sought to answer his critics on the health care measure he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts -- something his rivals are comparing to President Obama's health care law.

"Our experiment wasn't perfect -- some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change," Romney said.

"The one thing I would never do is usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover," he said. "I would repeal Obamacare."

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