Calling All Republican Presidential Candidates

The midterm elections are barley over and already political watchers are looking ahead to the 2012 presidential election. When it comes to the GOP, there's a relative lack of obvious frontrunners for the nomination. Republican political consultant Mike Murphy talks to Linda Wertheimer about which prospects have the buzz right now.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We'll continue to look ahead, not to the new year but to 2012 and the Republican presidential nomination. Some of the hopefuls have already touched down in Iowa. But the most likely candidates appear to be holding back.

Republican political strategist Mike Murphy joins us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California.

Good morning, Mike.

Mr. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Political Strategist): Good morning. Good to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Could we begin with the list of likely GOP frontrunners? Most of these people are frontrunners because they're very well-known, but also popular - former Governor Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee. What about that group?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, they're all powerful to their own constituencies. I mean the way the Republican primary historically works is there are two primaries within the primary, because there are two silos. The biggest and most powerful silo that ultimately generally nominates the candidates is the regular Republican silo, and Romney is the strongest candidate there right now. But it's very, very early.

Then you've got the movement conservative silo, which has a primary all its own, between a Rick Perry and a Sarah Palin, a Mike Huckabee. So I would say right now within the movement conservative silo - which is smaller, tends to do well in the Iowa caucus and then fade out in the rest of the primaries - Sarah Palin's in a pretty strong position. But that's not a particularly strong position to win the whole enchilada.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, current governors like Rick Perry of Texas, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Haley Barbour of Mississippi - any of those strike you?

Mr. MURPHY: Well, no. They all have their own appeal. Now, Rick Perry I would put in the movement conservative silo, along with Huckabee and Palin. And he would be very formidable because he has a Texas political base, he's proven he can raise real money, and he's, you know, he's been a governor, he has a record to talk about.

Over in the bigger, more dominant regular Republican silo, I think Mitch Daniels is somebody to watch. He is spoken about almost in the same tier as Mitt Romney. And then you have the candidates I call the understudies, who are other people acceptable if one of the perceived frontrunners - Romney or maybe a Daniels - were to falter.

And there you've got Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, Haley Barbour, Congressman Pence, and maybe a few others will get in.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what about access to big money? That's got to be one of the -sort of the drivers of who really sees their way toward making this race.

Mr. MURPHY: Well, it's kind of a conundrum because you need big money but you have to have access to small money. The federal laws dictate how much you can take from any one person. So the candidates that do well are the ones that have networks that can get lots of people to give checks, 'cause you can't take a huge check from one person.

So on one hand of the scale, you've got the more organizational, more famous candidates, the Romneys, the Daniels, who can build those traditional networks, and then on the...

WERTHEIMER: The Palins, the Huckabees.

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, but the Palins and the Huckabees are interesting 'cause they tend to not have that support. They instead could potentially now, in this Internet era, raise money online, which is a fairly new phenomenon in the last eight to 10 years. And it gives more insurgent candidates a little easier way to potentially raise the kind of money the establishment candidates have.

So I think - I think the ones who can put real table stakes together are probably Romney first, Mitch Daniels, should he run, and then probably Sarah Palin, with Huckabee fairly far behind her if he runs.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think Sarah Palin's affecting this process? I mean, I wonder if she's sort of standing in the way until she takes herself out or takes herself in.

Mr. MURPHY: Yeah, I think she probably has a bit of a dampening influence on the Mike Huckabees of the world, who would compete in the - that movement conservative silo is very powerful in the Iowa caucus, which is, you know, the starting gun. So I think what the candidate from that silo always wants to do is win Iowa, and it's hard if there are several candidates in Iowa. So if Palin runs, Huckabee may not.

That said, Palin's greatest strength is the media obsession with her. She has ironically almost a bigger constituency in the media than she does ultimately, in my view, in the entire Republican primary process. So she can suck up a lot of attention, which is powerful and a bit of a challenge to other candidates. But it's so early that I think the smart candidates now kind of hope she runs, gets out there, fascinates the media for nine months - because what you really want to be is a candidate who emerges toward the end of 2011. So right about a year from now you're surging into January and what are probably going to be the February early primaries.

WERTHEIMER: Mike Murphy is a Republican political strategist. He joined us from our studios at NPR West in California. Thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. MURPHY: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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