Republican Presidential Field Keeps Shifting

Over the weekend, Mike Huckabee — Fox News host and former governor of Arkansas – announced he won't be running for president. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is making a big push in Iowa, just days after announcing his bid. And former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is testing the waters in New Hampshire.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Republican field for next year's presidential campaign continues to shift. Mike Huckabee, Fox News host and former governor of Arkansas, said, over the weekend, he won't be running. Meanwhile, former House speaker Newt Gingrich is making a big push in Iowa, just days after announcing his bid. And former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is testing the waters in New Hampshire.

We're joined now by NPR's Cokie Roberts to hear how the field stands as of this morning. And good morning, Cokie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Mike Huckabee, he won the Iowa caucuses last time around and has been running at or near the top of many polls among Republican voters. But he decided not to run. How does that affect the race?

ROBERTS: Well, I think the main effect will be in Iowa where 60 percent of the caucus-goers, last time around, were evangelical Christians, and he appeals to them. Now, Newt Gingrich, former speaker, is trying to capture them but it's hard to really see how he does that, given his past personal history. So I think it's an opening for Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, if she decides to go. Or maybe Tim Pawlenty, also from the neighboring State of Minnesota.

You know, Iowa - the person who wins in Iowa doesnt usually win the Republican nomination. So nobody is sure how this all sorts out. This field is far from settled, Renee. There's still lots of talk about Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, getting in. And now, as you said, Jon Huntsman taking a look.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about Huntsman, another former governor but without a huge national name, does he have a groundswell of people telling him he's really got to get in?

ROBERTS: Well, in a poll in New Hampshire, exactly one person was for him. But that is because people haven't heard of him.

But, you know, look, when you have no obvious frontrunner, all kinds of people are telling all kinds of politicians that they should be the person to get into the race.

Huntsman is a governor of a conservative state, but he was President Obama's ambassador to China. Thats not likely to sit well with Republican primary voters, but it could be popular in the general election. His experience with that country, and the fact that he can work across party lines, is something that independent voters should like.

He and Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon and reportedly a rival, are going after same people - those people who think that in this time of economic trouble, a businessman who's had government experience, as well, is the best. Of course, Romney's government experience included the Massachusetts health care bill, which he sought to explain last week.

The White House does seem more worried about those two men, though, Huntsman and Romney, than others running. Because I think they're worried that anybody who could convince voters that they could do a better job with economy has an advantage, if the economy stays bad.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's turn to the political fortunes of President Obama. He got a big bump in the polls after the killing of Osama bin Laden, which seems to have already evaporated. Will the president get any long-term benefit from that?

ROBERTS: I think it still gives people a sense of him as a decisive leader. And last night on "60 Minutes," Defense Secretary Bob Gates - who as you remember is a Republican - said that he has worked with all kinds of presidents for many years and that he thought that this was one of the most courageous decisions that he had ever seen a president make. He called the president's decision to go after bin Laden, quote, a gutsy call.

So I think that does play into how people see President Obama. And today, he's off to see flood victims in Tennessee to show his compassionate side. So I think that all of that plays into how he is perceived in the next election.

But look, the economy is everything. Today we hit the limit on the debt ceiling and that debate in Washington goes on, Renee, as you well know. And we'll see how it plays out.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, how much of that argument is political posturing and how much real?

ROBERTS: Oh, it's a great deal of political posturing. But this year, those posturers have a lot behind them, because Republicans have voters who are very interested in cutting the deficit. And the administration is very, very nervous about having a default, even for a day or two, because of the shaky economy.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

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