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Five reasons the GOP race is so unsettled

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The GOP gained a lot back in 2010, but it's too soon for those newly minted governors and senators to run, says Mr. Mayer, who has in mind people like Governor Christie, Senator Rubio, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. "It won't surprise me if the Republicans have a strong field in '16," says Mayer.

That is, if a Republican doesn't win this time around. Though Obama's reelection is far from guaranteed, especially with the latest spate of discouraging economic numbers, including a boost in unemployment to 9.1 percent. It's Obama's vulnerability that has so many Republicans salivating for a strong nominee and so many deciding to run.

Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Huntsman, the two others with perceived top-tier potential, remain question marks over their ability to attract a significant primary following. Neither has much of a national profile – Gallup has Pawlenty at 6 percent, Huntsman at 2 – though it's early. They have both assembled their core teams, including major fundraisers. The trick for both will be to raise enough money to get their names out. But without much name ID, it may be hard to raise big money.

A rare chance for free national publicity comes on Monday, June 13, with the televised GOP debate in New Hampshire. Seven candidates will take part: Romney, Pawlenty, Cain, Mr. Gingrich (who insists his campaign is still alive), Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Huntsman, Palin, and Giuliani were invited but declined. Huntsman has indicated he will announce his presidential intentions soon after the debate.

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