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Making 2012 guesses? Some context from 2006

We now know the 2010 winners and losers, and the election, for the most part, is over... just in time for the press and politicos to start breathlessly hypothesizing about the next one – and the all-important 2012 presidential primary.

But before you start filling out your GOP candidate brackets, it’s worth remembering the heady days of winter 2006, when Democrats had thundered to victory in the midterms and pundits were frenetically handicapping the upcoming contests in the race to replace President George W. Bush.

It’s safe to say the chatter in the weeks after that election was often short of terrifically informative.

In mid-November 2006, pollsters found that New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would run away with the Republican presidential nomination – especially if the second most popular GOP choice, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, decided to pass on a run.

Few polls even included the eventual winner of the Iowa caucuses, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And in at least seven surveys that month, Mitt Romney’s support languished in single digits, behind a man who eventually passed on a run -- Newt Gingrich.

On the Democratic side, a flurry of surveys in November 2006 showed Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by double digits. Also winning a substantial chunk of support was former Vice President Al Gore.

No public polls showed Obama with a lead over Clinton until early 2008.

Clinton, at the time, was being quizzed by reporters about rumors that she might choose to become Senate majority leader instead of making a presidential run at all.

The day after the midterm election, the Associated Press labeled then-Sen. Barack Obama “an intriguing wild card” in the ’08 contest, although it remained unclear whether or not he would run. But experts were also quick to muse about the unlikelihood that a senator – especially a freshman with little experience – could win the presidency, noting historical trends that favor governors instead.

Also that week, Sen. Russ Feingold, who had been talked about as a candidate, tweaked the prevailing conventional wisdom when he said he saw the Democratic surge as a sign to back away from a presidential run. “I saw the result Tuesday and thought ‘What a great opportunity to do my work in the Senate,’” he said.

And two days after the midterm elections, the first Democratic hopeful filed the paperwork to make his run official, declaring that the elections showed that people “want leaders who share their values, understand their needs, and respect their intelligence … that’s what I intend to do as president.”

That would-be nominee? Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Some speculated that Vilsack could win his home state caucuses – either negating their results entirely or launching him to national name recognition. He dropped out of the race with relatively little fanfare just three months later.

There was one early guess that turned out to be right -- after it was wrong, that is.

Sen. John McCain was considered the institutional frontrunner for the nomination in 2006, although many GOP strategists fretted that his bipartisan overtures on immigration and judicial nominations would scuttle his primary victory. Both turned out to ring true; his campaign barely had a pulse in the summer of 2007, only to be revived later in the year when he bested all of his rivals in the crowded GOP field.