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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.

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Another face from '08: Mike Huckabee

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Like Romney, former Arkansas Gov­er­nor Huckabee is a 2008 candidate who enjoyed some success – he won the crucial Iowa caucuses – and may try again. As a former Baptist minister with a down-home style and a talk show on Fox, he could excite social conservatives, especially if Palin does not run. Huckabee did well last time in the insurgent mold, running on a shoestring budget. But he did not win primaries outside socially conservative parts of the country, and it's not clear that he can expand his appeal in a second run.

Still, this may be the "why not?" cycle for any Republican who's ever thought of running. "There's no obvious front-runner," says William Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University in Boston, and so, in theory, anyone can catch fire.

Other Republicans who may jump in:

John Thune, senator from South Dakota. As chief GOP deputy whip, he is well regarded by his colleagues, telegenic, and well spoken. Asked on Fox News July 27 if he'd made a decision about 2012 he said, "I haven't made any decisions beyond 2010."

Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania. He lost in 2006 by 18 points, normally not a good launching point for a presidential campaign. He has made frequent trips to early primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina) and reportedly met with former staff in late July to float a possible campaign.

Haley Barbour, governor of Mis­sis­sippi. His handling of hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill won him positive national notice. As former head of the Republican National Committee, he is seen as one of the shrewdest GOP operators in the country. But how he would play outside the South is an open question.

Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana. A blunt-speaking policy wonk, he's a bit short on charisma. But he has his fans and in February said he was willing to consider running.

Two other names that come up are Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. Governor Jindal, still in his first term, can make a name for himself with oil spill and hurricane recovery, and, at age 39, he has plenty of time to run for national office. Governor Bush has stated as firmly as anyone can that he has no intention of running in 2012, and given the unpopularity of his brother, the former president, that may be wise.