By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
You can call it the incredible shrinking presidential field: At this point, we’ve had more potential Republican primary candidates definitively announce that they won’t run than they will.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, citing a lack of fire in the belly, became the latest to join the “not ‘gonna do it” caucus yesterday.
"A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” Barbour said in a statement, telling his supporters that he did not have it in him to wage that kind of effort. http://abcn.ws/gb9SQW
But given his active travel to the early states — he won a straw poll in South Carolina just 10 days ago and had been making the rounds in New Hampshire and Iowa before that — and his courting of donors, activists, top campaign consultants and strategists, this decision was unexpected.
It was another sign of how presidential politics frequently upends conventional wisdom — a useful reminder heading into a primary season when a plurality of GOP voters say they have “no opinion” of any of the possible candidates and fewer than half say they are satisfied with the current field. http://wapo.st/eJEmo2
Here’s where things stand now: There are eight candidates who have taken some sort of step to explore a run for president — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Add to that list Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who later today plans to announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee at a news conference in Des Moines, Iowa. http://abcn.ws/eCqHmf
Now, all eyes now turn to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who said he will make a decision about a presidential run sometime after the legislative session ends this week, and to the bevy of political talent — and more importantly — big-dollar Barbour donors and who can now come off the sidelines.
“Haley Barbour is a great citizen; he’d have made a great president,” Daniels, a friend of Barbour’s, said in a statement yesterday. “I’d have been proud to try to help him had he chosen to run.”
The Pawlenty team is surely smiling at yesterday’s development. The Minnesota Republican wasted no time sending a love letter in Barbour’s direction after his exit.
“Nobody has done more than Haley to build the Republican Party over the last three decades,” Pawlenty said. “When Republicans defeat Barack Obama next year, it will be thanks to the solid party foundation Haley helped build.”
BOTTOM LINE: A smaller and less prominent field means Pawlenty gets to position himself as the anti-Romney candidate. His allies also believe that Pawlenty has the best chance of capturing the now free-agent Barbour donors. On the other hand, Romney, as the nominal frontrunner, no longer has to compete against another establishment candidate with a deep fundraising base.
But, what does it say about the Republican field when the guy with the most experience takes a pass while newbies like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann get the most attention? To be sure, Barbour had his own very weighty baggage. But, there is concern among GOP establishment figures that the field may start to get defined by the fringes instead of the center.
NOTED: BARBOUR POST MORTEM. Before his exit from the race yesterday, Barbour came pretty close to running — so close, in fact,that he had an elaborate announcement plan lined up for early next month. Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman take a closer look at why Barbour pulled the plug: “[Even] as he was taking all the usual steps — calling donors, visiting early states, hiring operatives –- there were signs that the Mississippian wasn’t all in,” they write. “As he traveled the country testing the waters over the last few months he had begun privately using the same phrase to describe his intense exploratory schedule: he called it his “death march,” a Republican who heard Barbour use the term recalled.” http://politi.co/eXwMRp Two GOP insiders ABC News spoke with noted that even while he was on the trail, Barbour privately expressed hesitancy about a run and lacked a passion for the process.
AS GO GAS PRICES, SO GOES 2012? It was already clear that rising gas prices have not been doing wonders for President Obama’s poll numbers — Obama, himself, acknowledged as much last week. Now here’s more evidence: “With gas up 26 percent this year to an average $3.88 a gallon, seven in 10 Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll report financial hardship as a result, six in 10 say they've cut back on driving — and, among those hardest hit, Obama's ratings are suffering,” writes ABC polling analyst Gary Langer. The poll found “the president's job approval rating 13 points lower among people who say the price of gas is causing them hardship. Forty-three percent of them approve of the president, vs. 56 percent of those who report no hardship. And among the four in 10 feeling ‘serious’ hardship, just 39 percent approve of Obama's work in office.”
Here’s the key statistic: “In re-election terms, 53 percent of those who are feeling serious hardship as a result of gas prices say they definitely will not vote for Obama in 2012 — 14 points more than say so among those who are feeling either less-than-serious hardship, or none at all.” http://abcn.ws/fu6fbM
ROMNEY ON PRICES AT THE PUMP: WE ARE ‘HIGHLY VULNERABLE.’ Likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in on the soaring price of fuel in an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren last night: “It would be nice if we could make magic happen, but the decisions that the president is making on energy, and he’s been making since the beginning of his administration, has made it very clear that America is not interested in developing our own energy resources,” Romney said. “That, of course, has lead to a position where we are highly vulnerable to the imports that come in to the country, highly vulnerable to the cartels, and when there are disruptions, as there are in the Middle East, prices go through the roof. You have to have an energy policy that says America is going develop our own energy resources, as well as developing those renewable resources that frankly are important but simply can’t power our cars.” http://mi.tt/eexpaQ
EXCLUSIVE: BOEHNER: OBAMA’S NOT BEING ‘ HONEST’ ON THE DEFICIT, TAXES. In an exclusive one-on-one interview in Ohio yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that the president was hiding from the American people the true scope of the problem we face on the deficit. In conversations before the speech Obama delivered outlining his plan to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion, Boehner said he and his Republican counterparts made it clear that “we are not in the business of raising taxes.” Boehner said he was disappointed by Obama’s speech. http://abcn.ws/eXiEjG
“The President goes out that same afternoon and gives this partisan, political campaign speech that, frankly, I was — I can't tell you how disappointed I was in the President in not being honest with the American people about the big problems that we face,” Boehner said. “And the fact that it's time to own up, fess up and quit whistling past the graveyard.”
ON MEDICARE REFORM. “I do believe that Paul Ryan has an idea that's certainly worth of consideration in terms of how do we, how do we do this in a more efficient way? And, frankly, having the private sector run the program is far more efficient than having the government run it.”
(The Speaker’s office is out today with a fact sheet titled, “Tall Tales: Democrats Take the Ax to Medicare, Attack GOP for Trying to Save It” that offers a side-by-side comparison of the GOP Medicare reform proposal and what they say is Obama’s approach: http://bit.ly/hgRppR)
ON GAS PRICES AND 2012. Who knows," Boehner said, when asked if Obama could win in 2012. "But if the economy doesn't get better, I don't think he'll win. If people don't feel better about government-run health care, I don't think he'll win. And if gas prices are $5 or $6, he certainly isn't going to win."
“I think the fact that he won't allow exploration in the Gulf, doesn't allow exploration in the inter-mountain west, won't allow us to drill in Alaska — this is not helping-the situation,” Boehner said. “And then when you look at what the EPA is doing in terms of the number of rules and regulations coming down the pike — those were his responsibility. He's not doing anything to make the situation better. And the fact is, is that we need all of the above. We need green energy, but we also need a transition to green energy. That means more oil and gas exploration. And it ought to happen sooner rather than later.”
Full transcript of Karl’s interview with Speaker Boehner: http://abcn.ws/huRFAP
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter feature Jon Karl’s interview with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio (preview above). National Journal’s Major Garrett will also join the show. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: EARL BLUMENAUER. The Oregon congressman discussed a bill he is sponsoring that would take away $40 billion in subsidies from the largest oil companies over five years. Blumenauer said Congress needs to stop giving large oil companies tax breaks. “Our $8 billion a year that is handed to the oil interests does not affect a $2 trillion global price for oil. What it does is it just goes to the bottom line, and you see those profits at record highs,” Blumenauer said. “We should be using that money to reduce the deficit or to help develop alternative sources of energy that will be in America, that will not contribute to greenhouse gases and will improve efficiency in the long run. I mean, there's a win-win here, and most people understand it.” No matter the fix, Blumenauer said it’s not going to go away in the short term. “The fact is there isn't anything that is going to change that tomorrow. I mean you could drain America dry of its oil. We only have 2 percent of the world's supply. We consume over 20 percent of it, and that's not going to happen overnight.” http://abcn.ws/eJl8YA
BIG-MONEY OBAMA SUPPORTERS TURN TO GOP. “Daniel Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, was one of the biggest Obama fund-raisers in 2008, rounding up $200,000 for him…But since Mr. Obama's inauguration, Mr. Loeb has given $468,000 to Republican candidates and the GOP, and just $8,000 to Democrats. Hedge-fund kings have feelings, too, and the president appears to have hurt them,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s Brody Mullins, Susain Pullaim, and Steve Eder. “Managers of hedge funds—private investment partnerships that cater to institutions and wealthy people—are reacting to what some criticize as Mr. Obama's populist attacks on Wall Street, as well as to Democrat-led efforts to raise their tax bills. They had hoped to be protected from such a tax move by their relationships with prominent Democratic members of Congress.” http://on.wsj.com/eBfac8
MANCHIN DOUBLES DOWN ON DEBT CEILING. “Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday will announce his support for strict spending caps that put him at odds with his party's leadership and President Obama,” The Hill’s Jordan Fabian notes. “Manchin is expected to give a speech in his home state where he will endorse the ‘CAP Act,’ which sets a tighter spending limit than the president's budget calls for, as well as a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The senator, a centrist who is expected to face a tough reelection campaign in 2012, said that both items, which have bipartisan support, could help foster a deal to pass the debt-limit increase. He said he would not support measures that make significant changes to popular entitlement programs. ‘Today, I will be announcing my support for two proposals that I believe provide a good starting point and framework from which we can move forward,’ he will say, according to excerpts released by his office. ‘But let me be also clear — one of my top priorities will be to make sure that whatever final debt fix emerges, it will keep our promises to our seniors by protecting Social Security and Medicare. I believe we can do this and cut our debt and deficits over time.’” http://bit.ly/eLo8qy
OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER PREVIEWS 'INSURGENT' 2012 STRATEGY. President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina says, “The president is not going to run like an incumbent but rather like an insurgent, and he outlines many reasons – from Republican enthusiasm to the uniqueness of the 2008 campaign – as to why this campaign will be tough. The video is typical of the kind that former 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe, currently a White House senior adviser, used to send to supporters in an attempt to make them feel included in strategy,” reports ABC News’ Jake Tapper. “In the roughly 6 minute video presentation, Messina say the keys to re-election are: Expanding the electorate; Building something new; Growing the grassroots in the states; Measuring progress; and Working for every vote.” http://abcn.ws/ib44ZK
GIFFORDS GREEN-LIGHTED TO ATTEND SHUTTLE LAUNCH. “Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who has been given the green light by doctors to attend her astronaut-husband’s shuttle launching on Friday afternoon, will be joined at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida by family, friends, aides and health workers — not to mention President Obama and his family — as the shuttle Endeavour lifts into space,” reports The New York Times’ Marc Lacey. “Ms. Giffords’s mother plans to attend, and her father might as well. Two aides who were injured along with Ms. Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, when a gunman opened fire outside a constituent event in Tucson on Jan. 8 will also attend, officials said. … Ms. Giffords, who suffered a bullet wound to the head, will return to her rehabilitation center, at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, ‘shortly after the launch,’ her doctors said in a statement. While at Cape Canaveral, ‘provisions have been made with NASA regarding Giffords’s care,’ the doctors said.” http://nyti.ms/gxlWyd
ANGLE CONSIDERING INDEPENDENT CONGRESSIONAL RUN IN NEVADA. “Republican Sharron Angle is considering running as an independent or third-party candidate for Congress if there's a special election and the GOP does not put her on the ballot,” The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Laura Myers writes. “That was the word circulating Monday as maneuvering intensified to win U.S. Rep. Dean Heller's seat if it becomes vacant. If Angle does run as an independent, a three-way race with her, a Republican and a Democrat could open the way for a Democrat to win Heller's GOP seat, according to a new poll. … Such a three-way race scenario might not come to pass, however. It all depends on what happens next in the wake of scandal-plagued U.S. Sen. John Ensign's sudden resignation, which takes effect May 3.” http://bit.ly/dYtfn6
@KYTrey: Last night was honored to attend tribute to veterans featuring Gen. McChrystal, the largest gathering of Harvard vets since WW2, almost 200.
*Rick Santorum will hold a town hall meeting in Dubuque, Iowa. He will also lunch with conservative activists in Dyersville and will participate in the Republican Party of Iowa Chairman's Series tonight in Cedar Rapids.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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