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A tip on the next focus: 2012

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By Rick Howell

    Now that mid-term elections are over (results not available before my deadline), it’s clear what will be the next obsession of politicians and their observers as the tiny remains of this year soon become 2011.

    Next up: the race for president in 2012. For those who will seek the office, 2011 will be the year to get their campaigns off the ground.
    It’s probably safe to assume, as I write this, that the mid-term results were, at a minimum, something less than what President Obama wanted. Therefore, it seems equally safe to believe that many will write him off as having no chance at re-election in 2012.
    Again, memories are often short in the political game. Bill Clinton was written off for 1996 after the drubbing his party took in the ‘94 mid-terms. But Clinton went on to an easy re-election victory over Bob Dole.
    The same can be true for Barack Obama if a couple of things will happen: First, the economy has to keep on growing, but growing more dramatically and producing more jobs. Secondly, he has to keep his promise and start getting us out of Afghanistan, recognizing that most Americans see no purpose in staying there.
    Republicans must realize that they won’t beat Obama with the same old group of contenders they had in 2008.
    Neither Mike Huckabee nor Mitt Romney will ever be president. But both are primed to run again. Huckabee’s only constituency is the dwindling ranks of the religious right. Romney is still thought of as a shameless flip-flopper who went from progressive Northeastern Republican to hard-core, right-wing purist just to get the nomination (which, of course, still escaped him).
    But one name hovers above all others when it comes to guessing who in the GOP might run: Sarah Palin.
    While there are some who hang on every word that emits from that whiny tone of voice she employs, others have read “Game Change,” the 2009 book by two Washington journalists that’s considered the definitive account of the last presidential race.
    According to that book, John McCain and his advisers got a hard lesson in reality after they elevated her to the national stage. They soon found out that, basically, she didn’t know a thing.
    Basic facts about American history and politics, things most kids learn by middle or early high school, she didn’t know. For example, she only vaguely knew what D-Day was, and couldn’t tell you when it happened. She couldn’t define the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
    In a hilarious account, the book recounts how McCain staffers spent days in a hotel with Palin, grilling her on basic facts of American history and politics. At her request, they had to put everything on “little 3 by 5 cards,” because she said that’s how she learned best.
    I’ve always felt that Palin knows her limits. I’d be shocked if she actually decided to run. If President Obama has recovered by early 2012, Republicans will need a fresh face if they want to beat him.
    There is a person I think could push aside the ‘08 retreads, beat others like Tim Pawlenty and maybe Newt Gingrich, and win the nomination. He is Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. He beat Tom Daschle in 2004. He’s got Kennedy looks, and is incredibly smart and polished. He’s a conservative, but not an extremist.
    Unless the GOP is smart enough to nominate him or someone very much like him, Barack Obama will likely serve two terms.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com,