Bill Whalen

5 Primaries … Before the Real Primaries Begin

Early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will greatly determine the Republican presidential nominee.

So much for re-stating the obvious.

But it’s worth noting that, before those votes, there’s another contest – primaries within the primaries, if you will – that likewise will have their effect on the GOP field of hopefuls.

Here are five such competitions worth watching in the weeks/months ahead:

The Barbour Primary. He flirted with the idea of a presidential run, concluded otherwise, and then was poised to throw his support behind Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who also passed on running. Who, then, is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s fallback choice? Here’s why Barbour matters: he’s a valuable docent for a field lacking true southerners; as the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association, he lends a candidate immediate entrée to freshmen GOP governors, not to mention a rolodex full of donors that’s easily worth eight figures.

The Bush Primary. Which Bush are you thinking? Not POTUS 41 or 43, but brother Jeb. The former Florida governor is the most popular Republican lawmaker, current or past, in the Sunshine State (certainly more popular than the incumbent governor, Rick Scott, whose approval rating hovers just below 30%). Some conservatives pine for a third Bush reign in Washington. Ironically, “Bush 45” is the Charlie Crist of the 2012 race – ironic in that, Crist, before he became a hated figure among Republicans for ditching the party during a failed Senate bid last year, was the then-Florida governor whose endorsement was madly pursued by John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in 2008.

The Christie Primary. Let’s assume the charismatic New Jersey governor finally runs out of dance-veils and puts a definitive end to the 2012 speculation. That doesn’t change the media impression that he’s the“alpha dog” of the Republican governors – celebrated for his high-profile battles over budget deficits, education reform and public pensions.  One wonders if Christie would, in addition to the endorsement, be a willing surrogate when his schedule allows – yes, a convenient way to lay the groundwork for his own presidential run in 2016 (assuming he’s re-elected to a second gubernatorial term in 2013).

The Ailes Primary. Ailes, the man who runs the all-powerful Fox News Channel, reportedly wants Christie to run. Assuming that doesn’t happen, who’s his new favorite? This leads to another question: how does FNC cover the Republican field? I’m not suggesting the network plays favorites, but it does face choices in the months ahead. If the less-stature candidates begin to go negative on Romney, does Fox play along? Does the network elevate the likes of Michele Bachmann, doing for her what it did for Mike Huckabee in 2008 – giving her a video soapbox for down-home populism?

The Talk Radio Primary. This one’s trickier, as America’s leading conservative talkers (Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, et. al.) can agree on what they don’t like – President Obama – but differ as to their favoritesamong the current group of hopefuls. Granted, this is more of a June 2012 than June 2011 problem for the eventual GOP nominee, as conservative talk-radio’s enthusiasm ties directly into the question of an enthused Republican base – one of the many problems that hindered McCain in 2008 and Bob Dole in 1996. If you’re on the road this summer and surfing the AM dial, keep an ear tuned to which hopefuls are winning the competition to be talked up, not down.

(photo credit: Marc Nozell)

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