Emboldened by dramatic Republican gains in Tuesday's election, President Obama's would-be rivals in 2012
are edging toward coming-out parties for a campaign that should be well under way by next spring.
Several from the 2008 field -- Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin -- are in the forefront of the early buzz -- and they've done little to discourage the speculation.
"I haven't made that decision,"
Romney insists. But the former Massachusetts governor is raising money like crazy and appeared in 25 states on behalf of Republican candidates during the midterm campaign. His political action committee contributed more than $1 million to various GOP causes.
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, already has a platform with his regular Fox News talk show. He said last summer
there is "strong sentiment out there" for him to run and that polls indicate he "does better against Obama than any other Republican."
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey
, taken during the last week in October, gave Huckabee a 52-44 percent lead over Obama in a hypothetical matchup. Romney was preferred 50-45 percent (within margin of error) over the president in the poll of 921 registered voters.
Palin is the wild card and at this point probably the favorite of many activists in the tea party movement, which energized the GOP base in the midterms. Her "mama grizzlies" and other Palin-endorsed candidates won in at least 62 contests and lost in 23
. In the course of the campaign, she made a lot of political friends and almost certainly collected some chits for her next campaign -- whenever it may come.
Related: An Open Letter to Would-Be GOP Presidents: Are You Sure You Want the Job?
She's given herself plenty of wiggle room when the conversation turns to 2012 -- as it almost always does in media interviews. Palin
has said she is willing to run in two years, "if there's nobody else to do it " -- that is, if no candidate meets her standard for "common sense conservative." By that barometer, a candidate like Romney, presumably could be deemed not conservative enough for the former governor of Alaska.
However formidable she might be in a Republican primary, the CNN poll suggests Palin has some convincing to do when it comes to a national audience. Obama was ahead of Palin 52-44 percent in the CNN sample of prospective voters from both parties.
CNN also asked the 500 respondents, who identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, for their favorites. Huckabee came out on top in that one with 21 percent backing, followed closely by Romney at 20 percent and then Palin with 14 percent.
The Republican field is certain to expand in the coming weeks and months.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said recently
he is trying to decide whether a White House campaign is "practical" for him, and he added, "I increasingly think it is." Gingrich, a regular contributor on Fox News, said he'll likely make his intentions clear early next year.
Rep. Mike Pence
, (R-Ind.), a long shot -- but a favorite of many conservative voters -- said this week he would give up his leadership position with the new Republican majority in the U.S. House to allow himself more maneuvering room in considering options in 2012. That probably means a campaign for governor of Indiana, but Pence did not rule out the possibility that he could seek higher office.
In addition, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (definitely interested), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are all going to get mentioned.
In the cool of the shortened November days, Republican leaders sense weakness in the White House. But for all of his midterm woes, Obama has time to repair the political damage before the 2012 campaign gets going. A national economy that heats up would be his best ally.