Is GOP presidential field set? Hopes for a ‘perfect candidate’ may be fading

Think of it as the political version of “The Hangover Part II.” The decisions of first Mike Huckabee and then Mitch Daniels to pass up a White House bid have left voters hoping for alternatives to the current field reeling. And there may not be a cure.

Republicans are increasingly becoming convinced that nobody else will be getting in.

“The field is set,” said one GOP insider who asked that his name not be used because of his candidate affiliation, adding that he expects Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who yet hasn’t announced her plans, to run.

Daniels, the Indiana governor, had emerged as a favorite of those, particularly in Washington, who don’t like Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner. But it was never clear whether Daniels, with his retiring demeanor, could have caught fire with the GOP rank and file.


Still, his decision has left a vacuum--one that no other potential contender seems eager to fill. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush again reiterated after Daniels’ late-night announcement that he’s not running. On Monday, advisers to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once joked that the only way he could convince people he isn’t interested in a run is by committing suicide, said again that the governor is staying on the sidelines in 2012.

That leaves Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has maintained he’s staying out, and, of course, Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee, who has remained coy about her political future but has done little to build a national operation.

Former New York Mayor and failed 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani may also be considering a run, reports say.

While it still feels early to the general public, the competition for experienced staff, and for donors, is in full swing. Each day makes a run more difficult. “Christie, Jeb Bush, Perry, Palin are not going to run,” the Republican insider says.


Assuming Bachmann does get in, she’ll be among a group of candidates who will court anti-Romney conservatives, a scrum that will also include Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who formally announced Monday; Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker whose campaign has already been marked by missteps; Rick Santorum, the ex-Pennsylvania senator, ; Herman Cain, who excites many in the “tea party” wing of the party but remains largely unknown; and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

There’s also Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who just wrapped up a five-day tour of New Hampshire and who may be looking instead to drain support from Romney in that state and elsewhere.

A new poll in New Hampshire suggests space exists for a candidate to come along and do just that.

While Romney, who was governor of neighboring Massachusetts, remains the clear favorite in the state, an overwhelming number of respondents (87%) said they don’t know who they will ultimately support—a jump of almost 10 percentage points from a month ago. And Romney’s support in the state has dropped 8 points since February (seven if Daniels is excluded from the field).

At the same time, no other candidate besides Romney broke double digits in the CNN/WMUR poll, with Bachmann, Cain, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Santorum all coming in under 5%. So even if an opening does exist, it’s unclear if there remains a candidate who can step up and take advantage of it.

“The shifting nature of the Republican field and a perception that the ‘perfect candidate’ candidate has not appeared, has led many New Hampshire Republicans to support the best known candidate, Mitt Romney,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Romney has been the clear favorite among New Hampshire Republicans for more than two years and no other candidate has persuaded voters to move away from Romney.”

But WMUR political analyst James Rindell called the erosion of support for Romney a “very troubling trend.” Watch his remarks below:

twitter: @jamesoliphant

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