What all can happen between now and then that can effect who should, could and will run? Pretty much anything and everything imaginable.
But the hell with it -- at least this will keep me from focusing on the stock market.
First off, since it's impossible to determine what will happen between now and then, we will move forward with the assumption that there are two possible political environments that will exist in the months preceding the Iowa Caucus(i.e. the months where decisions are made by candidates whether to run or not): 1) Very positive for Obama, or 2) Vulnerable Obama.
Afterall, elections where incumbent Presidents are running are first and foremost referendums on their first four years.
So who will likely run?
Environment 1 -- Very positive for Obama
- Mitt Romney - He's doing a decent job of keeping his name in lights among activist Republicans. His performance at the CPAC straw poll where he beat Palin and Jindal for first was good for his image. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have the bully pulpit of an elected office to keep him afloat for another two years, let alone past 2012. Therefore, if he ever wants the job, he has to run.
- Newt Gingrich - The former Speaker and current GOP idea-man today mentioned he was seriously considering running in 2012. Many have said he is unelectable, and they are probably right. While it's hard to find anyone with as good a mind for conservative principles and advancement of GOP ideology, it's also hard to find someone with as bad a track record at home. But if Obama really is unbeatable, this is the guy I want debating him -- setting up America for a GOP revolution of ideas in 2016.
- Mark Sanford - I'm a big fan of Sanford. He's a fiscal and social conservative. He walks the walk as good as anyone. But his term as Gov of SC ends in January of 2011. While this sets him up perfectly for a run in 2012, it makes it very difficult to hold off until 2016. While he'll still be plenty young enough, I don't think he has the ambition or cash that Romney has to keep himself in the loop for four more years. If he's going to run, it has to be in 2012.
- Haley Barbour - Another guy who fits the profile well for 2012. He's done an amazing job in Mississippi by streamlining the budget, enacting more restrictive abortion laws and doing a great job with the Hurricane crisis. He does have his lobbyist past to deal with, but his accomplishments as Governor far outweigh those negatives. He's done as Gov in 2012 -- once again, perfectly setting him up for a run in the Primaries. Like Sanford, it would be difficult to hold off waiting until 2016, especially since he'd be 69 years old.
Move down everyone from the above list, except Newt. He's smart enough to know when to back off and let someone more capable of winning take the reins. This doesn't mean he won't throw his name in at the beginning just to increase his profile and provide a better medium for his ideas, but I don't see him making much of a push if he knows the GOP stands a chance at winning back the White House.
- Mike Huckabee - No matter what, Huck is going to have his Christian base there to support him. Some will have fallen off the bandwagon from 2008, but enough will hold on to keep him interested in running.
- Sarah Palin - Due to little fault of her own, Palin must do some damage control on her image. This will require hitting the Sunday morning circuit as much as possible to appease the intellectual elite and keeping her state running like a finely tuned machine. She has a good base of support right now, and really has nowhere to go but up.
- Bobby Jindal - Timing. While it's perfect for Sanford, it couldn't be worse for Jindal. If he wants to run for re-election, which no one believes that he doesn't, he will be campaigning in Louisiana all the way up until November of 2011. Seeing as the Presidential candidates will be in Iowa, NH, SC and other primary states for the entire Summer and Fall of 2011, this makes things awfully difficult for him. If he wants to run for President, he will need one helluva good approval rating and a ridiculously weak opponent -- one that makes him capable of leaving the Louisiana to hit the trail as much as possible and raise the money he would need to win a difficult race.