(Reuters) - Big-name Republicans have begun maneuvering for their party’s nomination in 2012 to try to deny President Barack Obama a second four-year term.
The campaign is off to a slow start, although several possible candidates are testing the waters, visiting early voting states and lining up supporters.
Here is a list of prominent Republicans who are seriously considering a run.
A leading candidate in the 2008 presidential race, the former Massachusetts governor has carefully positioned himself for another White House bid with repeated visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, early voting states in the candidate-selection process, and has gone on a book tour.
Known for his success in the world of finance, Romney’s Free and Strong America political action committee has raised millions of dollars. If there is a Republican front-runner, Romney is probably it.
He continues to face accusations he has “flip-flopped” on issues, a charge that hurt his 2008 presidential bid. With Republicans vowing to repeal Obama’s healthcare overhaul, Romney’s support for a similar Massachusetts law when he was governor could be a problem.
In a recent speech to conservatives, Romney accused Obama of presiding over “the greatest job loss in modern American history.”
He has been leading opinion polls in New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home that gives him a natural advantage in the state’s key primary next winter.
Romney is at least weeks away from an announcement.
The former Minnesota governor could become the first prominent Republican to announce his candidacy. He emerged on the national stage in 2008 when he was on John McCain’s short list to be the Republican vice presidential candidate.
“T-Paw,” as he is known by his supporters, was a popular governor in a state that has seen big political swings over the years.
Pawlenty eliminated a $4.3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes and has been a staunch voice against abortion and stem cell research. Critics say he lacks charisma.
In “Courage to Stand,” a memoir timed to coincide with his expected campaign, Pawlenty denounced “runaway spending” in Washington and blamed Obama for a mountain of debt. He spoke at a major Tea Party event in Phoenix last weekend, in a sign he wants to win over fiscal conservatives.
Pawlenty said last week that he will finalize his decision and make an announcement in the next 45 days.
If there is one thing Palin has, it’s buzz. The former Alaska governor has used lucrative television, book and speaker deals to emerge as one of her party’s biggest stars since running as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.
She is a leading voice in the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement and enhanced her influence by campaigning for its candidates across the country in last year’s congressional elections.
But some Republican heavyweights are leery of Palin because she is a polarizing figure and her support seems limited to conservatives. In a self-inflicted wound, she sparked a controversy last month with comments about a media “blood libel” against her after the Arizona shootings on January 8.
Palin is still keeping her supporters guessing on whether she will in fact run.
“I‘m not saying it’s going to be me offering my name up in the name of service,” she said in Woodbury, New York. “There is so much to be considered, but I certainly believe that this is going to be an unconventional political cycle.”
Palin has no timetable for deciding on whether to run but if she does decide to give it a try she might leave it until late because she already has name recognition.
The governor of Indiana generated a lot of enthusiasm in conservative circles with a speech in which he compared the U.S. fiscal situation to the “red menace” the United States fought during the Cold War.
“The second worst outcome I can imagine for next year would be to lose to the current president and subject the nation to what might be a fatal last dose of statism. The worst would be to win the election and then prove ourselves incapable of turning the ship of state before it went on the rocks, with us at the helm,” he said.
As governor of Indiana, Daniels is considered a highly competent manager and all-around smart operator. He cut his Washington teeth as budget director for Republican President George W. Bush.
But Daniels lacks pizzazz in a party that needs an energetic performer. His comedy skills will be tested when he speaks to the Gridiron Club’s dinner of skit and song in Washington on March 12 before an audience of reporters and VIPs.
Daniels is to make up his mind on whether he will run in April, when the Indiana legislative session ends.
The former speaker of the House of Representatives was the main architect of the 1994 Republican congressional election victory and author of the “Contract with America” political manifesto. But the Georgia Republican ended his 20-year congressional career after Republican losses in the 1998 elections.
Gingrich remains a leading conservative figure, political pundit and accomplished fund-raiser. He strode into the Conservative Political Action Conference recently to the tune of the “Rocky” movie theme, “Eye of the Tiger” and offered a blistering critique of Obama.
Gingrich announced last week he is looking into making a run but fell short of setting up a presidential “exploratory” committee, a first step toward a White House bid.
Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, helped the state rebound from Hurricane Katrina while neighboring Louisiana struggled. He was the party’s national chairman before moving to the Mississippi governor’s mansion and was also chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
A sound-bite machine with a Southern drawl, he is popular with reporters. He drew criticism recently with a magazine interview in which he said he did not notice much about the civil rights movement while growing up in his Deep South state. He seemed to be trying to rectify recent comments by proposing a civil rights museum for his state.
A decision is likely in April, when his state’s legislative session is finished.
Distinguishing himself as a conservative who is “not angry,” the former Arkansas governor used a mixture of anti-abortion, anti-gay politics and regular-guy charm to win the 2008 Republican Iowa caucus against better-known candidates.
A Baptist minister with strong ties to conservative Christian groups, Huckabee continues to poll well in Iowa and has been considered a potential presidential front-runner in 2012. But he is also dogged by controversy from decisions granting clemency to convicted criminals in Arkansas, including a felon who later allegedly killed four Washington State policemen and died in a gunbattle with a Seattle officer.
Huckabee is on a book tour, fueling speculation that he might run.
His decision could be months away.
Huntsman raised eyebrows in the White House by declaring his intention to resign at the end of April as Obama’s U.S. ambassador to China and let it be known he is considering a race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Like Romney, Huntsman has roots in Utah and is Mormon. A former governor of Utah, Huntsman is a moderate Republican, which may make it difficult for him to win over conservatives who play a giant role in the nominating process.
Huntsman has a campaign-in-waiting in Horizon PAC, a political action committee that launched a new website and is seeking donations. It has hired veteran Republican operative John Weaver, McCain’s senior adviser in his 2000 presidential campaign.
He is to decide when he returns from China at the end of April.
The New Jersey governor drew national attention as a corruption-busting U.S. attorney who won convictions or guilty pleas against scores of public officials. He has since proved a popular governor in a traditionally Democratic state, despite strong stands against abortion and gay marriage.
On a recent visit to Washington, Christie railed against deficits and debts, and criticized both parties. But he said he did not think he was ready to be president and did not plan to run in 2012. Still, speculation persists.
Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Alistair Bell and Philip Barbara