From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
If you just can't wait for the 2012 Iowa Republican primary, Craig Robinson, the former political director for the state GOP, ranks the contenders on his site The Iowa Republican. It's waaaaay early, but here's how Iowa GOPers are starting to see the field:
1. Huckabee (who won it last time): "Looking ahead to 2012, Huckabee will have to deal with something new if he seeks the Republican nomination for president -- expectations. No longer will Huckabee be the underdog, meaning, the national media will be looking to see how much money he has raised and what type of organization he is building in the early states."
2. Palin: "One thing is for certain, if she does run for President, she is going to have to explain why she could not complete one term as Alaska's Governor. While people tend to favor candidates who have been governors, Palin not finishing one term could haunt her for the rest of her political career."
3. Romney: "The national political pundits all have Mitt Romney occupying the top spot on their 2012 presidential lists, but for the man who invested millions of dollars in Iowa during his 2008 presidential run, Romney hasn't stepped foot in Iowa since right before the last general election, and even that event was very low key."
4. Gingrich: Appears to be Robinson's dark horse: "In addition to being the idea guy in the race, Gingrich might be the only candidate on this list who has shown the willingness and tenacity to go on the offensive against President Obama's agenda day in and day out. If he runs in 2012, he is the one to watch."
5. Pawlenty: "Pawlenty has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration. He has come out against the cash for clunkers plan and has also been an early critic of Obama's health care proposal. The well-spoken Pawlenty should also do well in the neighboring state of Iowa, and it's also likely that many Iowans in the northern part of the state have seen him on the local news or watched his campaign ads in the past."
The rest: 6. Haley Barbour; 7. John Thune; 8. Rick Perry; 9. Bobby Jindal; 10. Mike Pence/Other House Member
(And here's what we wrote about the Curse of 2012 for some of these candidates.)