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Calls Rise To Broaden GOP Field – WSJ.com

August 22, 2011

Calls Rise To Broaden GOP Field

POLITICS AUGUST 22, 2011

By JONATHAN WEISMAN And NEIL KING JR.

After a week of intense campaign activity that was supposed to clarify the Republican presidential field, the clamor for new entrants has intensified, with fresh hints from Sarah Palin that she could jump in and pressure mounting on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to join the race.

The activity suggests the extent to which dissatisfaction with the current field lingers—as well as the possibility that President Barack Obama’s growing problems could entice others to seek the chance to unseat him.

“Do I think the field is complete yet? I would have thought so, but I’ve got to be honest. I think there could be a few more surprises,” said New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Jack Kimball.

There are few firm signs either Mr. Christie or Mr. Ryan will take the leap, but aides acknowledge the pressure. In Aspen, Colo., a few days ago, former Reagan administration official William Bennett took Mr. Ryan on a long hike, urging him to consider a presidential bid, according to people knowledgeable about the discussion.

Mr. Ryan’s deficit-reduction plan has been roundly criticized by Democrats, but Republican insiders see him as the candidate with the intellectual heft to beat Mr. Obama in debates.

Mr. Christie, too, has been on the receiving end of many recent calls to get into the race. But Christie advisers have put the word out to unaligned donors and party elites in recent days that he has no plans to run.

“The intensity of the recruitment efforts has certainly increased to a new level, but nothing has changed in terms of the governor’s plans,” said Christie adviser Mike Du Haime.

Despite the clamor, only former Alaska Gov. Palin is making moves suggestive of an actual presidential run. Her political-action committee released a video Friday focusing on her recent trip to Iowa that had all the earmarks of a campaign spot. She plans to return to Iowa over the Labor Day weekend.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s withdrawal from the campaign gave Texas Gov. Rick Perry more room to make waves with his entry this month. He rapidly became the leading alternative in the race to front-runner Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, at least in national polling.

But a few missteps by Mr. Perry reminded some in the GOP elite, including Republican donors, of underlying concerns that, strong as his appeal is to conservatives, it might not be broad enough to unseat an incumbent president.

Earlier this year, when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour opted not to run, Mr. Obama appeared difficult to beat. The economy was adding jobs and the unemployment rate dipped below 9%. But the economic turmoil that followed the Japanese tsunami, an intensifying European debt crisis and Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. debt has undermined Mr. Obama’s case for re-election and driven his public approval of his handling of the economy down to 26% in last week’s Gallup survey.

The ugly showdown with House Republicans over raising the nation’s borrowing limit prompted bipartisan questions about the president’s leadership. For Republicans, those issues make the nomination all the more worth having—and a temptation to draw in new entrants.

The burst of attention Rep. Michele Bachmann received after winning an Iowa straw poll just over a week ago faded quickly as focus shifted to Mr. Perry. Her comments in South Carolina last week that she would bring back $2-a-gallon gasoline were widely ridiculed.

While not openly opposing the current field, many Republicans fear Messrs. Romney and Perry and Ms. Bachmann all have vulnerabilities that could weaken them.

News that Mr. Romney has applied for permits to quadruple the size of his seafront mansion in La Jolla, Calif., also underscored concerns that he lacks a connection with ordinary voters. A campaign aide said Mr. Romney needs the extra space to accommodate his five married sons and 16 grandchildren.

An unease also persists among big fund-raisers. “A lot of major bundlers are just kind of sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how things play out,” said Ray Washburne, a top Pawlenty fund-raiser who has yet to commit to another campaign.

The challenge lies in the fact that the ideal contender, even more than normal, has to check two contradictory boxes: He or she has to appeal to the GOP’s energized tea-party and social-conservative wings, while also assuring the party’s elites of the ability to reach out to more moderate swing voters who usually decide general elections.

“Most people in the center-right realize that Obama is eminently beatable. Yet they don’t feel that they are hearing a compelling message of how the leading Republican candidates are going to dig the country out of the economic quagmire that it’s in, and they are searching for that message,” said Fred Malek, a GOP fund-raiser who remains unaligned with any candidate.

There are others still in the wings. Former New York Gov. George Pataki has put out feelers in recent days, but his entry as a moderate Republican has gotten little encouragement, senior Republicans said Sunday. Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is still pondering a run and should decide within days.

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, is making waves of his own, ditching a low-key approach that produced little movement in the polls for a gamble on an all-out attack on other candidates. In an interview Sunday, he said he wouldn’t trust any of his GOP competitors with control of the economy.

Some GOP operatives say that time may have already run out for anyone beyond Ms. Palin to enter the race. “To develop a national campaign, you have to have been in a serious planning mode for months by now,” said Phil Musser, a Pawlenty adviser.

Write to Jonathan Weisman at jonathan.weisman@wsj.com and Neil King Jr. at neil.king@wsj.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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