Waiting For Superman? GOP Searching For 2012’s ‘Plan B’ Candidate (The Note)

May 9, 2011 9:00am


If there’s one thing we know about Republican activists, donors and rank and file voters it’s this: they aren’t compelled by the current field of not-yet-official GOP presidential candidates and they’re looking for alternatives.

Even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who skipped watching Thursday’s South Carolina debate and instead dined at a Washington, DC steakhouse, said he thinks “there’s more time for people to get in.”

And, as if we needed another indicator that the GOP is not altogether persuaded by their 2012 choices, The New York Times reported over the weekend that many of the party’s major donors are staying on the sidelines.

“A result is the chicken-egg dynamic that is delaying the party’s urgent need to begin raising money to defeat an incumbent president whose fund-raising goals are as high as $1 billion,” wrote The Times’ Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg. ”Potential candidates have been slow to get into the race without the assurance that they can raise the money necessary for a credible campaign, while donors are waiting to see how the field develops before making decisions.” http://nyti.ms/leAfwe

In South Carolina — one of the key early nominating states — it’s clear that activists and establishment types are eager for some fresh faces. They liked the first impression they got from former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. One plugged-in Republican we spoke with in Columbia this weekend told us that Huntsman was easily the most impressive candidate he’s met thus far (and he’s met ‘em all). That said, let’s see what happens when these folks learn a bit more about Huntsman’s positions — like his support for cap-and-trade and civil unions.

Amid all of this, comes word from the Associated Press’ Tom Beaumont in Des Moines that Iowa donors are courting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, trying to prod him into the presidential contest.

As our Rick Klein notes, “the very fact that he’s welcoming this high-profile delegation of Iowans means his name will stay in the mix for at least the next few weeks.” Even Huntsman is making a pilgrimage to see the governor this week. http://abcn.ws/jSlFMz

What makes Christie unique is the fact that he is the only candidate who can claim both the serious executive ability of a Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Mitch Daniels, and the gregarious, straight-talking personality of a Donald Trump or Sarah Palin.

Will he get in? First there’s the issue of answering that question countless times the same way: no chance. “I don’t feel ready in my heart to be president. And unless I do, I don’t have any right offering myself to the people of this country,” Christie told ABC’s Diane Sawyer last month. http://abcn.ws/fSKMrY

Then there’s the question of why he’d be more convinced to do it now. Killing Osama bin Laden does not make Obama invincible, but combine that with improving economic numbers and the path to beating the current occupant of the White House looks steeper every day.

If not Christie, then who? Don’t count out former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been thrust back into the spotlight post-bin Laden and who’s headed later this week to New Hampshire where the latest WMUR-University of New Hampshire poll showed him in third place behind Romney and Trump.

When asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press” yesterday if was still thinking of running for president he answered: “Not, not right this minute, but, yes, I am.”

BOTTOM LINE: As The Washington Examiner’s chief political correspondent, Byron York put it, “in the back of their minds, many Republicans are hoping that somewhere, somehow, a superhero candidate will swoop down out of the sky and rescue them from their current lackluster presidential field. They know it’s a fantasy, but they still hope.” http://bit.ly/kL9G5F

WHAT ABOUT NEWT? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been relatively quiet recently, but this week all indications are that he will officially launch the presidential campaign that never seemed to truly get off the ground after an awkward non-announcement, announcement back in March. But will candidate Gingrich be stymied by the GOP’s search for new blood?

“No question Newt is an ideas machine, and he’ll add intellectual heft to the debate,” former George W. Bush adviser and political strategist Mark McKinnon, told the Wall Street Journal. But “he’s just been around the track one too many times. At a time when people are hungry for something different, new and refreshing, Newt just feels stale.” But Gingrich has other assets, as the Journal’s Neil King Jr. and Patrick O’Connor report today: “Now, as Mr. Gingrich prepares to launch a run for president as early as this week, this network of advocacy and for-profit groups is providing a publicity and policy machine without parallel among his likely Republican rivals, few of whom have stirred excitement among donors and activists. His network has amassed more than 1.7 million voter and donor contacts and raised $32 million between 2009 and 2010 — more than all his potential 2012 rivals combined.” http://on.wsj.com/lFx5Go


TUNE IN TONIGHT: LIVE FROM MEMPHIS. ABC’s Diane Sawyer will anchor “World News” from Memphis, Tennessee tonight where Mississippi River flooding is expected to cause even more damage today. “On Sunday, the Mississippi River was at 47.6 feet, just below the record of 48.7 feet set in 1937. This flood marks the first time since 1937 that the river has risen to even 41 feet in Memphis,” reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “In Downtown Memphis, the river now stretches three miles wide; it’s normally about a half-mile wide in that spot.” http://bit.ly/j3pBiP Watch our “Good Morning America” report today: http://abcn.ws/lQCqX0


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Karen Travers welcome the National Journal’s Reid Wilson to weigh in on all things political. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine


“THIS WEEK” REPLAY: TOM DONILON. Osama bin Laden did not surrender, said White House national security advisor Tom Donilon. In an interview with ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour, Donilon said the United States forces made the right decision when they killed the al Qaeda leader on May 2. “Osama bin Laden did not give any signal that he was intending or had any intention to surrender,” Donilon said Sunday on “This Week.” “And in those settings, our forces, I think, made the absolutely appropriate judgment that he was a threat, given all the techniques we knew al Qaeda to use.” The killing of bin Laden also led to the single largest cache of information ever recovered from a senior terrorist. “The CIA is describing it to us as the size of a small college library,” said Donilon. http://abcn.ws/jnNsoB  


CONFRONTING THE PAKISTAN PROBLEM. “The White House says the intelligence community is pouring through the trove of information seized at the bin Laden compound — enough information to fill the library of a small college, officials say. Among the mysteries they’re hoping to solve: what did the Pakistani government know and when did they know it?” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports today. “The U.S. is pressing the Pakistani government for access to the bin Laden compound and bin Laden’s wives, but so far those requests have not been met. … US officials described the tone taken with the Pakistani government as clear and direct, but not antagonistic, along the lines of ‘We’re sure you’re as surprised as we are that bin Laden was there, let’s work together and figure out how this happened and put an end to al Qaeda for once and for all.’ … Some on Capitol Hill have called for the U.S. to reconsider the billions of dollars the nation provides to the government of Pakistan, but [National Security Adviser Tom] Donilon said that ‘this is an important relationship with the United States so we need to assess this…in a cool and calm way.’” http://abcn.ws/lhkfry


RNC CHAIRMAN TAKES ON DEMS ‘AUDACITY OF IRRESPONSIBILITY.’ “I have traveled the country extensively in recent months; not so much to talk, but to listen. And the voters I speak with are acutely aware of the fiscal cliff this country is approaching,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in an Op-Ed in today’s Daily Caller. “That is why they voted in record numbers to elect a Republican House majority with a mandate to put its foot firmly on the brake and rein in Washington’s reckless, wasteful, and out-of-control spending. In Washington, you can talk about problems, or you can talk about solutions. You can talk about change, or you can demand change. Republicans are proposing long-term solutions that will demand long-term change. They are putting forth fiscal reforms that seek ultimately to put an end to the era of infinite debt ceilings; an end to the era of putting our financial fate in the uncertain arms of China; an end to the era of spending today with dangerous disregard for tomorrow. Beyond the numbers, this is a battle of principle versus politics. Republicans recognize the dangerous stakes of the status quo. They understand that the time for responsible leadership is now. It may not be a debate Democrats want to have, but it is a debate the American people deserve to have.” http://bit.ly/mI0rVX

GAY DONORS PLAYING MAJOR ROLE IN OBAMA’S 2012 EFFORT. “President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is banking on gay donors to make up the cash it’s losing from other groups of wealthy supporters who have been alienated and disappointed by elements of Obama’s first term,” Politico’s Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman report. “Pleased by an all-out White House push to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gay donors have surprised campaign officials with the extent of their support. And the campaign’s new fundraising apparatus appears designed to capitalize on their enthusiasm: Obama’s finance committee included one gay man in 2008; there are 15 this year, a source said. The Obama campaign finance director, Rufus Gifford, was a top California gay fundraiser; the DNC finance chairman, Andrew Tobias, is gay; and the White House social secretary — traditionally a key, if unofficial, fundraising job — is also a gay man, Jeremy Bernard. … Gay support is particularly key this year to Obama, whose 2008 campaign raised huge sums from the very rich, just as it did from smaller donors. Now, key categories of supporters have grown leery. The left-leaning super-rich, including George Soros, see Obama as hopelessly compromised, and have lost their enthusiasm for him. Some Wall Street and hedge fund executives, tired of being criticized and regulated, have switched sides. Some pro-Israel Jewish donors, a mainstay of Bill Clinton’s fundraising, dislike Obama’s pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. And rich men on both coasts whom Clinton had accustomed to personal flattery, personal visits, and late-night bull sessions have received no such personal attention from the more solitary Obama.” http://politi.co/iKKNP7

TEA PARTY TO TURN UP HEAT ON DEBT CEILING DEBATE. “Tea party activists have taken some lumps lately, but they’re not going down without a fight,” the National Journal’s Eliza Newlin Carney notes. “With TV ads, petitions and grassroots lobbying, tea party organizers are gearing up to send an absolutist message to Capitol Hill: Don’t raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Tea party activists have already clashed publicly with some of the 87 GOP freshmen they helped elect last year, and they’re warning that Republicans who don’t keep their fiscal promises will pay a political price. … A newly formed conservative political action committee has released an ad opposing a debt ceiling increase and disputing the $100 billion in cuts that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, touted in the recent budget agreement. The ad cites the Congressional Budget Office finding that cuts totaled less than $400 million. But its real target is President Obama and his “massive deficit spending.” The ad was released by the new Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama PAC, a spinoff of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, the party of the Tea party Express. The latter is about to launch its own national TV ad campaign opposing a debt ceiling increase, said Amy Kremer, who chairs Tea party Express. The PAC raised and spent $7.7 million in the 2010 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.” http://bit.ly/jrYD95

INDIANA DEM JUMPS INTO SENATE RACE. “Indiana Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly says he’s running for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Richard Lugar,” according to a dispatch from the AP. “The three-term congressman from South Bend made the announcement Monday in a video posted to his campaign website. Donnelly says in the video that as a senator he would continue fighting to protect American jobs. He also speaks out against what he calls Republican proposals to privatize Social Security and Medicare. Donnelly is the only Democrat who has entered the race. Lugar faces a strong challenge from his right by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock for the Republican nomination.” http://bit.ly/lA3aUx The National Republican Senatorial Committee is up with its response to Donnelly’s announcement. “Just months after voters overwhelmingly rejected Brad Ellsworth’s liberal policies, Joe Donnelly wants to sell Hoosiers on that exact same big-spending, job-killing Washington agenda,” NRSC communications guru Brian Walsh said in a statement. “We welcome him into the race and look forward to him campaigning side-by-side with President Obama.” http://bit.ly/lPJ70F



@rickklein: smart @JohnJHarwood take on limits of the political impact of#Osama‘s killing. remember, the race is looong.http://nyti.ms/lpL2tw

@GOP12: The more money and education you have, the more likely you are to support Romney. The poorer and uneducated favor Palinhttp://bit.ly/jSiTn4

@MPOTheHill: Obama leads Republicans in swing-state Virginiahttp://is.gd/7NAcka

@jmsummers: Donald Trump on Fox & Friends: “I am the least racist person there is.”

@HotlineJess: Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-IL) six-pack abs get front cover treatment on this month’s Men’s Health http://bit.ly/iMkN9z



As we noted above, we expect former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to make his campaign more official — most likely through Facebook or another social media outlet — before he addresses the Georgia Republican party this Friday.

Donald Trump returns to New Hampshire this week to address the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, and we’re less than two weeks away from the season finale of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump has said repeatedly that he’ll make his decision public in the eight day window after his show ends, but “before June.”  Behind the scenes, Trump has been making preparations for a potential run, interviewing political operatives who could help him run a campaign if he ultimately decides to jump in.

And, as we mentioned, another New Yorker, Rudy Giuliani, will be hot on Trump’s heels, making several stops in the Granite State at the end of the week.

If there is one thing standing in the way of Mitch Daniels launching his campaign, it is thought to be hesitance by his wife and family. Cheri Daniels gives a speech this Thursday to Republicans in Indiana and tea leaf readers will be watching her body language and listening to her words. For his part, Daniels told reporters last week that he is perhaps weeks away from an announcement and said that “family considerations” are the most important factor in his decision. http://abcn.ws/kbKOhh  

The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV 


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