High-level Republican leaders tell POLITICO that they now believe the top tier of the presidential field is set, and that no major donors or operatives will remain on the sidelines hoping a dream candidate will make a last-minute entry.
These leaders calculate that they are better off to accept the Mitch Daniels-less field as it is and not continue to waffle, letting President Barack Obama continue to build strength while the GOP dawdles.
The energy in the party, of course, is currently in the tea-party and social conservative wings—there’s support in those quarters for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is increasingly looking like a candidate, and Sarah Palin, whose plans are a mystery.
And a group of Iowa GOP donors is scheduled to travel to New Jersey at the end of the month to encourage Gov. Chris Christie to run.
But the GOP establishment is now convinced that Mitt Romney is the front-runner, and that Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman have a narrow window to determine who will become the stronger alternative – the anti-Mitt in the GOP field.
Daniels’ weekend announcement that he will not run is looking like a tectonic moment in a 2012 field that has been murky and fluid.....
....One prominent outside-the-D.C. establishment voice, RedState editor Erick Erickson, told POLITICO Sunday that Palin is “the only game changing candidate” who could still enter the race.
In an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity last week, Palin said she was “still seriously considering it.”
Republicans officials have no idea what she’s planning, although they agree she would have tons to lose by entering a race that would cost her the mystique she has built up. And Romney advisers said her entry would help the former Massachusetts governor dramatically.
“The shock value would cause elected officials and party officials to rally around Mitt, because she’d scare the daylights out of them,” one official said. “And it would allow him to position himself very much in the middle of Republican, conservative thinking and avoid the fringe, and look more moderate for the general election.”