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Presidential election jockeying already beginning

All eyes are focused on the upcoming midterms, but some Republicans have already turned their eyes to the 2012 presidential election. Four big names dominate the speculation, but there are some underdogs.

By Staff writer / August 3, 2010

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks to the crowd at the P.U.R.E. Ministries event on Tuesday, June 29 , 2010 in Duluth, Ga. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have all been mentioned as possible GOP presidential nominees.

Erik S. Lesser/AP

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Now is the season when all good political men (and women) look in the mirror and ask themselves: Do I see a future president?

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For Republicans, the looking is good. President Obama is struggling with stubbornly high unemployment, and by November 2012, he could be vulnerable. Or the economy could be in clear recovery, and Mr. Obama could sail to reelection. It's just too soon to say. But there's always the chance that the right opposition nominee could succeed, as Bill Clinton discovered in 1992 when he toppled the first President Bush.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney

Already, the Republican jockeying is intense. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, never really stopped running after his failed effort to win the 2008 GOP nomination. Republicans have a history of giving nomination also-rans another chance (Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole), and given Governor Romney's success in business, his financial know-how might speak more loudly to 2012 voters.

But he'll still have to overcome the somewhat stilted personal style that hurt him last time, as well as some religious conservatives' reservations about his Mormon faith. He will also be expected to answer for his reform of Massachusetts health care, which is now seen as a precursor to Obama's unpopular health-care reform and puts Romney on the defensive.

So far in the 2010 midterm election cycle, Romney has raised more than $6 million, endorsed hundreds of candidates, and given $530,000 to campaigns and causes via his Free and Strong Am­er­ica political action committee (PAC). These efforts have built goodwill across the country that could come in handy when 2012 campaigning starts in earnest.

Globe-trotting Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Another Republican who has done everything but announce is two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He's got a money-dispensing PAC and has traveled widely out of state for speeches and fundraisers. Governor Pawlenty has also taken multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, including one just concluded (with four other governors), which bolsters his foreign-policy portfolio.

Unlike Romney and some other candidates, Pawlenty has a limited national profile, and thus, he said at a Monitor breakfast July 26, he would have to jump in early next year were he to run. He also suggested that it would be life experiences, not issue positions, that would help him stand out in a crowded GOP field.

"What's the stereotype [of Repub­li­cans]?" he asked, teeing up a dig at Romney without saying his name. "We're all CEOs. We're the sons or daughters of CEOs.... That's not my story, and it's not the story for the 'tea party,' and it's not the story for most Republicans."

Then he outlined the biography that would clearly form a core of his message: Grew up in a meatpacking town. Lost his mother at 16. Father a truck driver. First in his family to graduate from college.