2012 Election: Twelve GOP Candidates Who Might Challenge Obama

Names of all sizes and statures have emerged as potential contenders.

Jan. 25, 2010 — -- The 2012 presidential election is years away, but there is already a growing crop of Republicans who are toying with the idea of seeking the GOP's presidential nomination.

The first test will come April 8-11 when the Southern Republican Leadership Conference will hold a widely attended cattle call in New Orleans, which several potential GOP presidential candidates are expected to attend.

ABC News spoke with strategists, Republican Party officials and conservative leaders to narrow down the list of GOP candidates who seem the most committed to taking back the White House.

Here's a look at a dozen Republicans whose names have emerged as possible contenders to take on President Obama in 2012. In the end, not all of these Republicans will run. But as of today, they seem like the 12 best bets to get into the race.

One Republican not on the list? Scott Brown. The newly elected senator from Massachusetts is the conservative darling at the moment. Insiders say, however, that his support for abortion rights and the overlap between his political team and that of Mitt Romney will keep him out of the 2012 race.

Mitt Romney

Con: Romney, who dropped his support for abortion rights as he got closer to his 2008 presidential run, faces lingering questions about his authenticity. There also remain certain evangelical Christians who are not sure if a Mormon qualifies as a Christian. Romney showed in 2008 that he can endure the rigors of a presidential campaign. His previous run, however, also makes him something less than a fresh face.

Sarah Palin

Con: The downside with Palin is that her run for vice president in 2008 left many voters with the impression that she lacks the intellectual firepower to be president. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in November, three out of five Americans think Palin is not qualified to be president. Although her resignation as governor of Alaska freed her up to pursue one of the most widely publicized book tours of all time, the resignation fed an image of her as highly volatile -- not necessarily a quality one would look for in a potential commander-in-chief. Palin told Oprah Winfrey on Jan. 22 that her gig as a Fox News contributor does not preclude her from running for president in 2012. Some Republican leaders say, however, that she is more interested in enriching herself than in building the party. Other Republican officials note that the fascination with her is akin to the fascination with celebrities and that it would not necessarily translate into political support once the nominating season begins. Finally, she has not put together the kind of staff typically required to run a successful national campaign.

Tim Pawlenty

Con: Pawlenty's weakness is that he does not enjoy Romney's personal wealth and he is overshadowed by Palin's star power. He also came under scrutiny last year when Dan Balz of the Washington Post characterized his moves to the right as being "Romneyesque."

John Thune

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.

Haley Barbour

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."

Mike Pence

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.

Newt Gingrich

Con: While Gingrich covets the increased attention that comes from being covered as a potential presidential candidate, most Republican insiders think he will ultimately pass on a 2012 race. Although he is revered by conservative activists for leading the GOP to its first House majority in 40 years, many Republicans remember his tenure as Speaker as a stormy one. There is also a concern that Gingrich's personal and political baggage from the 1990s would impede the GOP's ability to make the election a referendum on the Obama administration.

Mike Huckabee

Con: Despite his incredible win in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, Huckabee never put together the kind of national staff or national fundraising network which would have allowed him to overcome Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for the nomination. One reason why Huckabee did not advance further than he did was that he was targeted by the anti-tax Club for Growth which accuses him of going along with higher taxes in Arkansas during his tenure as governor. Huckabee's stock was hurt last year when word spread that he granted clemency to notorious cop-killer Maurice Clemmons. Although the clemency has not yet hurt his standing with the public, it will probably become the subject of attack ads if he becomes a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. It's not clear whether Huckabee, who has put on weight since 2008, still has the same drive that he had last time.

Ron Paul

Con: If Paul runs for president again in 2012, he will be forced to compete with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for the support of Libertarian-leaning Republicans. Paul would also be the oldest candidate in the field: He will be 77 by the next presidential election.

Gary Johnson

Con: Johnson's outspoken support for legalizing marijuana may help him raise money among advocates of that position but it could also limit his support among Republicans who might otherwise be drawn to other parts of his small-government agenda. Johnson may also be hampered in the GOP primaries by his support for abortion rights.

Rick Santorum

Con: Santorum's biggest weakness is that it is hard to make the case that you should be your party's presidential nominee when you were defeated in your most recent bid for re-election to statewide office. And yet that is exactly the situation that Santorum finds himself in: The Pennsylvania Republican was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Bob Casey. Santorum has also been criticized by Mark McKinnon, a former Bush and McCain adviser, as being "dangerous" for the future of a GOP that needs to attract Latinos.

George Pataki

Con: Pataki actively flirted with running for president in 2008 but ultimately passed on the race. Many of the questions which were raised then are still relevant now: How does a Republican who supports abortion rights and gun control win the nomination of a party that has become increasingly conservative?

ABC News' Matt Loffman contributed to this report.