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A peek at the 2012 Republican field

Presidential possibles, stimulus, highlight weekend's NGA for Republicans
From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
As
the nation's governors make their way to Washington this weekend for
the National Governors Association conference, it provides a look at
(1) Republicans who might make a run for president in 2012; and (2)
What these governors will do about stimulus money.
 
Several
have taken the ideological hard line that they will reject the funds --
though it's unclear they actually have final authority to do so (their
legislatures do in most states). Some have said they will take the
funds despite opposition to the bill. And yet others have embraced the
funds from the beginning -- even lobbying for the federal government's
help as their states face budget crises at home.
 
The NGA will
be a showcase for Republican governors possibly considering a run for
president in 2012 and beyond. The likelihood that the next Republican
nominee for president will be in Washington this weekend is pretty
high.
 
One notable absence will be Sarah Palin, who is still
on the schedule to host a panel on natural resources. "It looks as
though the Governor is not attending the NGA," Meghan Stapleton told
First Read in an e-mail.
 
Palin seems to be entirely trying to
avoid the Beltway limelight -- she's not attending the conservative
polical action conference, or CPAC, either. Her state is facing budget
issues, and the Alaska chief executive is also having to deal with
revelations that she must pay income taxes for per diem expenses for
days she spent at her Wasilla home.
Palin's absence provides an opportunity, most notably, for 2012 (or beyond) possibility Bobby Jindal, the 37-year-old wunderkind Louisiana governor. (If Jindal ran in 2012, he'd still be younger than Barack Obama when he launched his bid.)

Jindal is highly regarded for his competence in a state that is, well, not exactly known for a whole lot of it at the managerial level. Jindal has been coy about whether he'd run in 2012, as he is up for re-election at his current job in 2011. But Jindal's 2008 multimillion-dollar padding of his coffers is raising suspicions that he's gearing up for something.
 
Because of Jindal's age, though, he has the luxury of sitting back and watching Obama's approval rating. If that thing is anywhere above 50 percent, Jindal will likely sit it out in 2012, but you'd be playing with house money betting on him for the nomination in eight years. Without spotlight-magnet Palin, expect Jindal to get all the "Is he the future of the party?" coverage. Remember, he gets the prime spot on Tuesday, delivering the Republican response to President Obama's address to Congress and appears on Meet the Press Sunday, a place quite a few presidential wannabes have begun their invisible campaigns.
 
Others to watch: Florida's Charlie Crist, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina's Mark Sanford.
 
An interesting drama to watch is what has unfolded between Crist and Sanford over the stimulus bill.
 
The stimulus has shaped up to be a Republican litmus test of sorts. If you're a real Republican, you're against it -- simple as that. In other words, if you want to run in -- and win -- a primary in 2010 (maybe 2012), you'd better oppose it.
 
While Jindal, Palin, Mississippi's Haley Barbour, Texas' Rick Perry and Mark Sanford have said they wouldn't take stimulus money -- Perry and Sanford have since backed down slightly on that -- Crist has taken the opposite tack. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vermont's Jim Douglas have also expressed support for it. Schwarzenegger even unabashedly wrote a letter to Obama in early January lobbying him for a "substantial federal stimulus program," as his state is facing a near-budget crisis.
 
Crist -- the moderate Floridian -- went so far in his support of the bill as to introduce President Obama at a Ft. Myers, Fla., event where he was stumping for the stimulus. That prompted a sharp rebuke from Sanford, who doubles as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
 
"I don't think that a lot of people down here would call him a fiscal conservative," Sanford said Feb. 15th. "He may be a good guy, and I've pleasantly enjoyed knowing him through the governorship. But that he's some stalwart fiscal conservative is, I think, at odds with the record."
 
I wonder what the temperature will be like when Sanford and Crist pass in the hall this weekend.
 
Democrats to watch (in alphabetical order):
-- Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.): Was lobbying for HHS Secretary, but after his name was floated and liberal groups protested, his name faded.
-- Jon Corzine (D-N.J.): In a tough 2010 re-election race -- polls show him trailing. Was considered for Treasury Secretary. But with his poll numbers what they are, is he a potential Commerce pick? His Goldman Sachs image (and house that's up for rent in the Hamptons for the summer at $900,000) has hurt his chances in this climate of populist outrage.
--  David Paterson (D-N.Y.): In big trouble in New York politics after his handling of the Hillary Clinton Senate replacement. His poll numbers have plummeted, and he will be fighting for political survival in 2010.
-- Pat Quinn (D-Ill.): His first time out at a national event since replacing the impeached Rod Blagojevich. He has asked that Roland Burris resign.
-- Ed Rendell (D-Pa.): Has been mentioned for several cabinet posts. Could Commerce, HHS come knocking?
-- Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kan.): Has emerged on the short list for HHS Secretary.