Tales from the Trail

McConnell sees 2012 presidential race wide open, no Republican heir apparent

Who will lead the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential race?

USA/Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says plenty of Republicans will throw their hat into that ring, especially if Democratic President Barack Obama’s popularity stays on the low side.

What about Sarah Palin? The Tea Party favorite appears to be positioning herself for a possible run — she’s endorsing candidates in this year’s midterm elections and taking on Democrats when there’s an opening.

“I think she’s going to be one of a number of Republican leaders who are going to be looking at the presidential contest after the election,” McConnell said in a Reuters interview. “They’re all viable.”

He wouldn’t name names since he didn’t want to accidentally leave someone out, but he said: “It’s going to be a wide open contest, I don’t think there’s any particular heir apparent.”

McConnell refused to be drawn out specifically on Palin. When asked how valuable she had been for the midterm elections coming up in November, he responded: “They’re all out there making endorsements.”

Obama may want to cover his eyes, poll numbers not good

A standard public line for presidents is that they don’t make policy based on opinion polls.

But we’re fairly certain no president likes to see his poll numbers drop. Well, President Barack Obama may want to cover his eyes for this one.

OBAMA/The latest Quinnipiac University National Poll found that Obama’s approval rating has dropped to a net low, with 44 percent saying they approve compared with 48 percent who disapprove of how he’s doing his job.

Gingrich chides Obama for acting like a teenager with credit card

Extending unemployment benefits is this week’s battleground for Democrats versus Republicans. USA/NRA

Democrats look set to push the legislation through the Senate with the help of newcomer Carte Goodwin of West Virginia. They hope to show voters in an election year that they are the party responding to the plight of the unemployed.

Republicans had blocked the measure, demanding cuts elsewhere to pay for the $34 billion price tag and prevent it from adding to the U.S. budget deficit. They want to show voters that they are the party of fiscal restraint.

Palin serves up plenty of red meat at Boston Tea Party

Conservative darling Sarah Palin had no trouble stirring up Tea Partiers at a rally in Boston, not far from the site where colonists staged the original Tea Party revolt centuries ago.

USA/The problems in the United States are “nothing a good old fashioned election can’t fix,” she told the crowd of several thousand on the Boston Common. “The first test will be at the ballot box in November.”

The former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate, who wore a red leather jacket, brought plenty of red meat rhetoric to the anti-tax Tea Party.

Maddow to Brown: Wrong, “I’m not running”

Political commentator Rachel Maddow is used to having her say. This time she used a full-page ad in The Boston Globe.

The popular liberal TV host came out swinging on Friday against the new senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, who has suggested in a fund-raising letter that Maddow will run against him in 2012. SENATE/BROWN

“I’m not running against Scott Brown … It’s just not true. Honestly. I swear. No, really,” Maddow said in the ad.

Romney says Obama doesn’t deserve a passing grade

Mitt Romney gives Barack Obama an ‘F’ for his performance as president. But that’s not because the former Republican presidential candidate still wants the job — at least, he’s not ready to say yet whether he wants it or not. USA-POLITICS/

“I’m not going to give him a passing grade for the year,” Romney said of Obama on NBC’s Today show.

Sure, the economy was in free-fall a year ago and is now growing. Sure, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is back above 10,000. Sure, the U.S. no longer seems headed for a new depression.

Bayh wonders if partisanship will encourage a new Ross Perot

Evan Bayh wants out of Washington but wonders if the partisan bickering he leaves behind will one day be swept aside by a new PEROTRoss Perot riding a third-party tidal wave of public anger.

“If (voter) frustration continues to grow and the American people say ‘a pox on both your houses,’ then there’s some prospect for a third-party type movement,” the Democratic senator from Indiana told ABC’s Good Morning America.

Bayh hastens to add that he doesn’t believe that would really happen.

Why not? “I think that ultimately we can make progress within the two-party system,” he said.

Republican “blank page” challenges Obama

OBAMA/The next U.S. presidential election is more than 2-1/2 years away. But pollsters are already asking how President Barack Obama would stack up against a Republican challenger.

The results are favorable. But for whom? No one can say.

Obama is in a statistical dead heat against an unnamed Republican candidate, leading the challenger 44 percent to 42 percent, according to a Gallup poll with a 4-percentage-point margin of error. Gallup surveyed 1,025 adults Feb. 1-3.

Media pundits are divided about what the findings mean, or don’t mean.

Some say the data are meaningless except as a gauge of 2010 voter anger toward Washington and incumbents generally.

2012 may be an open door for Palin, but first comes 2010

USA/Sarah Palin’s right. It would be absurd for her not to consider a White House bid in 2012, especially while Tea Partiers are chanting, “Run, Sarah, run!”  
   
But first come this November’s elections, which could help build Palin’s credibility if her high-profile public appearances (and repeated attacks on President Barack Obama) actually help conservative candidates get elected to Congress and important state offices around the country. If.

Some political experts say Palin’s weekend keynote speech at the big Tea party in Nashville was her best since the 2008 GOP convention — detailed, focused and high on energy. Lucrative, too, given the $100,000 speaker’s fee, though the on-stage interview seemed a bit scripted, especially the part about what she’d do if she were president. 
       USA-WEATHER/SNOWSTORM
The appearance also kicked off a busy travel schedule to help candidates in this year’s campaign.
   
On Super Bowl Sunday, she was in Texas helping Republican Gov. Rick Perry with his March gubernatorial primary contest against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Polling results show Hutchison trailing the incumbent by 15 percentage points and losing ground to a third candidate, Tea Party activist Debra Medina.

Palin spent much of her time in the Lone Star State assailing Washington, and by implication, Hutchison. She raised a huge cheer by pointing out in non-establishment fashion that Texans might like to secede.     
    
But moving the national political applause needle to the right in 2010 could be much more difficult than rallying friendly audiences or using a talking hand to bash that “charismatic guy with a TelePrompTer.”
   
A state-by-state analysis of Obama’s job approval ratings by Gallup may offer a glimpse of the voter sentiment challenge that Palin and her conservative allies face this year.

Gingrich once again at head of Republican pack

Once, a first-term Democratic president failed to deliver on healthcare reform and found his party USA-POLITICS/swept from office by a wave of voter anger that brought Republican Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American politics. Could this history lesson from the Clinton era be repeated?

Healthcare reform is stalled, voters are angry and Gingrich — who rose to prominence as House speaker after Republicans won Congress in 1994 — is again leading the pack, this time among  potential White House hopefuls for 2012.

The Washington-based political news outlet, Politico, says Gingrich’s political action committee is raising money far faster than those of 2008 campaign veterans including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.