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Bachmann and Romney dominate, but don't discount Palin and other no-shows

Last night's CNN-hosted debate among GOP presidential hopefuls showed Republicans are gaining confidence that they can unseat President Obama. Michelle Bachmann stole the show, but some of the major players – like Huntsman, Palin, Giuliani, and Perry – have yet to formally announce.

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Voters are feeling a little better about President Obama after his neutralization of Osama bin Laden. But if the unemployment figures are not significantly less by this time next year, Republicans think they have a shot at making him a one-term president.

This sends a tingle of excitement up the nerves of those Republicans who have declared their candidacies. This was evident at CNN’s first debate for GOP presidential candidates last night when Michele Bachmann upstaged the others by formally announcing her candidacy on live TV, and Mitt Romney offered his most persuasive explanation yet of the problems with Obamacare. Mrs. Bachmann may be unlikely to become America’s first woman president, but could she as a vice-presidential running mate deliver the tea party vote to a Romney-led ticket?

It is time to take a fanciful, and highly unscientific, look at the lineup so far.

DECLARED CANDIDATES WHO HAVE A SHOT AT BECOMING PRESIDENT: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum.

Romney is in the lead. A millionaire businessman, he is well qualified. He took over the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City when organizers were in financial trouble and mired in scandal. He cleaned up operations, and the day after the Games concluded, he turned over a bundle of money to the state of Utah. Newsweek said he has an “icy persona,” but he’s loosening up: He even took his tie off for his TV interview with Piers Morgan. If he were a Roman Catholic, a Jew, a black, or a female, he might be home and dry but he is taxed about his Mormon faith. Like Catholic John F. Kennedy once did, Romney assures us his religion would not influence his decisions as president.

DECLARED CANDIDATES WHO PROBABLY WILL NOT BE PRESIDENT: Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich has flamed out. His senior staff has jumped ship. Taking off for a two-week luxury cruise when all of them were working their tails off was a bad decision. That six-figure tab at Tiffany’s did not exactly brand him as a man of the people, either.

CANDIDATES NOT DECLARED WHO PROBABLY WILL OR MIGHT DECLARE: Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and Rick Perry.

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Mr. Huntsman is a rich kid who played in a heavy-metal band and still rides motor bikes. He was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, says he is a Christian, believes in God, and is proud of his Mormon heritage. But when Time magazine asked whether he was still a member of the Mormon church, he was quoted as replying: “That’s tough to define.” Huntsman was a popular governor of Utah and a highly commended ambassador to China under President Obama. He’d be a breeze for Secretary of State in either a Republican or Democratic administration, but he’s a long shot for president this time around. [Editor's note: The original version gave the wrong media source for Jon Huntsman's statement.]

Then there is Sarah Palin. Ah Palin! The Economist described her “One Nation” bus tour as a “slow dance of the seven veils.” There are more political veils to fall before we discover if she is to run or not. Upstaging Romney’s New Hampshire presidential announcement with her bus tour was a coincidence? If you believe that, you probably believe in the tooth fairy, too. She is not going to be president, but she could enliven even the dullest of campaigns. Do not underestimate her influence in the Republican Party.

Rudy Giuliani is the hero of 9/11. But he’s kind of a gadfly. He would like to be president without enduring the grinding process of fund-raising and hand-pumping and speaking at a hundred town hall meetings that has become essential, like it or not, for a successful candidacy.

NOT RUNNING BUT YET COULD: Chris Christie.

NOT RUNNING BUT I WISH THEY WOULD: Bob Gates, David Petraeus.

NOT RUNNING BUT COULD HAVE: Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour.

CONSIDERED RUNNING, THEN BOWED OUT, BUT SAYS HE COULD YET RUN: Donald Trump, as Republican, Independent, perhaps even Democrat?

Stay tuned. The parade has only just begun.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.


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