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The Daniels effect: Other Republicans expected to be pushed

By Kevin Bohn, CNN Senior Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Consultants, fund-raisers not excited so far, experts say
  • Rep. Bachmann, ex-China envoy expected to decide this week
  • Sarah Palin's future still a question mark

Washington (CNN) -- In the wake of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' decision not to run for the Republican presidential nomination, there is debate among Republican activists about whether the universe of interested candidates will grow or whether it is pretty well set.

Consultants not involved in the campaigns told CNN to expect more intense focus to be put on some of the leading party figures who have so far sat out the race to rethink their decisions.

Some GOP fund-raisers and consultants who were not happy with the current crop of prospects had increasingly focused on Daniels, a fiscal conservative and experienced governor, as a viable Republican presidential candidate who could definitely give President Barack Obama a serious challenge.

"It is certainly a big disappointment. There are a lot of us that were talking to Mitch and trying to get him to take this race on," former House Majority Leader Dick Armey told CNN's "State of the Union." "Now obviously we have to start looking." Armey is chairman of the influential advocacy group FreedomWorks, which works closely with Tea Party activists nationwide.

"The push for other GOP candidates to enter will be intense," consultant Scott Reed told CNN. Reed had been a prime supporter of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour until he decided against running.

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"I do not think it is set at all," former Capitol Hill staffer and consultant Ron Bonjean told CNN. "I definitely think other people can jump in."

Some campaign veterans, however, said while there may be efforts at recruiting new faces, they don't think they will be successful and therefore the set of candidates will be finalized soon.

Tim Pawlenty is scheduled to announce his candidacy Monday, and Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are moving toward formal campaigns. Two other leading candidates who are testing the waters are expected to make their decisions known in the coming weeks to help finalize the field of candidates: Rep. Michele Bachmann and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

One major question mark is whether 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will throw her hat into the ring.

While many analysts predict she won't since she has not taken any concrete steps toward setting up a campaign, her political action committee sent out a national fund-raising pitch, she has reorganized her political team and just last week said it was too early for her to make a decision and definitely had the will.

"I think my problem is that I do have the fire in my belly. I am so adamantly supportive of the good, traditional things about America and our free enterprise system, and I want to make sure that America is put back on the right track, and we only do that by defeating Obama in 2012. I have that fire in my belly. It's a matter for me of some kind of practical, pragmatic decisions that have to be made," she told Fox News, where she is employed as a political commentator.

Analysts see major weaknesses with all the contenders, fueling more efforts at recruiting new candidates.

"I think there is a lack of excitement on the GOP side, and that is why a narrative has emerged that other candidates need to jump in" in order to rally the base, Bonjean said.

Bonjean and other Republicans argue there are advantages for the party when you look at the president's approval ratings hovering around 50%, his economic approval numbers on the decline and the nation's unemployment rate at about 9%.

While "every Republican candidate has a weakness, President Obama's is the economy and that overwhelms everyone else's liabilities," Bonjean said.

The exit of several leading contenders just in the past week -- Daniels and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- has only added more uncertainty and fluidity to the race. Those candidates now in the race are working hard to win over supporters and fund-raisers who had been aligned with Huckabee and Daniels.

Some of the major consultants and fund-raisers who had been sitting out the race will have to decide whether to embrace one of the current candidates or continue to sit it out in hopes of someone else entering.

One major problem is that several of the other leading prospective candidates who are the focus of the speculation have ruled out running.

"I was just saying this morning, maybe it's time to start drafting Paul Ryan," Dick Armey suggested on Sunday, referring to the House Budget chairman who is a popular figure in the party because of his proposal to rein in federal spending.

Ryan insisted Sunday he is not running.

"I'm not going to get into all those hypotheticals. I am not running for president. I am not planning on running for president. If you are running for president, you've got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I have not done any of those things," Ryan told NBC's "Meet the Press."

More attention assuredly will be focused on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

While a group of leading Iowa fund-raisers and activists are scheduled to meet with Christie next week to try to entice him into the race, the governor reiterated this month to CNN National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin he will not run. She asked him at an education forum which of the GOP candidates shared his philosophy on the issue.

"You ain't getting me anywhere near that. My God, I am not running for president. Everyone remain calm. All is well."

Consultant Reed said he thought only former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or current Texas Gov. Rick Perry "could pull it off" at this stage although both also have insisted they will not mount campaigns.

As a website went up last week trying to draft Perry, he said he has other priorities.

"I am standing where I am standing, and I've got a legislative session that is extremely more important to the people of the state of Texas and to me," Perry told reporters last week.

Also a possibility, some insiders said, is a dark horse candidate emerging later in the summer or even in the fall, although the chances of success are considered small.

 
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