I am not a prophet nor do I play one on television.
Nevertheless, here is my take on possible announcement dates by the candidates most likely to run for President in 2012. All of them would be wise to get in by the time the Reagan Library debate in May, 2011 is held.
Tim Pawlenty: Expected in Iowa to close his book tour the last two days of January. Perhaps while he is still in Iowa on February 1st, he will make his plans known (or make a short trip back home to tell us from his home in Minnesota). I think he is definitely in and getting in first, often, and early will allow him the press coverage that other candidates won’t get. The press will pace around him Iowa the next few months like a cat waiting feeding time. Like Mike Huckabee at this time four years ago, he is probably not well known in Iowa or around the country. That means a free ride unless he picks up steam, then out will come the sharks prepared to eat him up if he has any scandals, terrible votes, foolish statements or bad hair days.
Rick Santorum: Another candidate who needs to get in early, but who has better name recognition. He has made many trips to Iowa already and as a longtime social conservative may be the best candidate to challenge Palin and Huckabee among those voters if they run. Santorum will have to give better reasons for endorsing Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004 than he has to date. His answer to this point is revealing – it was a tactical, political move. He can hardly argue that his pragmatic decision helped his causes as Specter continued to vote frequently with the Democrats and eventually joined them. Maybe Santorum will announce near Valentine’s Day.
John Thune: One more candidate likely to get in earlier rather than later, if he decides to run. He is not a sure thing like Santorum and Pawlenty are. (I should disclose here, my first donation ever to an out of state politician was when Thune ran against Tom Daschle. And no I didn’t give money to Daschle). Thune voted for TARP in 2007 which could be a problem for him. Complaints, however, won’t come from the mouths of Palin and Romney who both supported John McCain’s vote for it. I hold to the view McCain’s one vote in favor of TARP may have cost him the election (and not his GOP-inspiring pick of Palin). By late February, Thune might be in.
Mitt Romney: He’s in, unless his poll numbers plummet. He may jump in anyway. I predict that he will take a great risk and forego serious campaigning in Iowa. I predict he will also move to the center on social issues or minimize them at the very least. He probably won’t announce until late April, right before the Reagan Library debate. Questions linger about his implementation of Romneycare and its relation to Obamacare.
Mike Huckabee: Whether he will run or not is still an unknown. I doubt his Fox News gig is the most important factor. It may be depend on whether there is a conservative running he trusts, such as Michelle Bachmann or Jim Demint. With name recognition he does not need to get in early. He will certainly have to shore up support among fiscal conservatives and figure out how to raise more money than he did in 2008.
Sarah Palin: Like Huckabee, it is not clear whether she will run or not. And if she does not run, will she endorse somebody or not? (It won’t be Huckabee, but might be Romney or Daniels). She can also get in very late and possibly even last, with a strong following and immediate access to the press. She may wait to see who else gets in and how her numbers are at that point.
Michelle Bachmann: Threw her potential bonnet in the ring this week. Immediately well-received by those on the right. It is tough for a member of congress to get traction, but she could do it, and she has as much relevant experience as others in the field. Look for her to announce by Mid-February, if she is in. She is a Tea-Party favorite.
Newt Gingrich: I predict he will not run. He is a perennial teaser, with too much personal baggage. He must announce very early (no later than the end of February) and virtually live in Iowa to even have a shot.
Mitch Daniels: Will not run unless both Huckabee and Palin choose not to run.
Mike Pence: Won’t run unless he can get either a Romney, Huckabee or Palin endorsement.
Haley Barbour: Won’t run unless Romney drops out. He could enter late, if Romney drops out. He would be an immediate favorite of the talk show and money crowd in the GOP.
Ron Paul: Will not run or will be ignored by the other candidates if he does; unless he decides to endorse somebody, then suddenly he will be all that and a bag of chips.
Herman Cain: Will provide lots of entertainment. Will enter on Groundhog Day.
Others Not Running: Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani (if America’s Mayor does enter, it will be on April Fool’s Day).
Other candidates I wish would consider running: Steve King (at least run for Senate, Steve!), Jim Demint, and J C Watts.