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Susan MacManus: Path to the White House runs through the Senate

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From the Washington Examiner: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s diminished political fortunes are shifting the field for prospective 2012 presidential candidates, with a sudden vacancy on the Republican Party’s short list.

“It’s way too early to talk sensibly about the 2012 field, but that’s no reason not to do it,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

Sanford’s admission of an affair Wednesday after a bizarre four-day absence from public duties effectively deprives Republicans of a promising fiscal conservative who was among the party’s best hopes to challenge President Barack Obama.

The Sanford revelation came fast on the heels of second-tier 2012 prospect Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who last week took himself out of contention with his own admission of an affair.

Those who immediately benefit from Sanford quitting the field include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been grooming himself for what appears to be another run.

But Romney is among a field of 2008 campaigners — along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — who have had their day and may not catch fire a second time, Jillson said.

Among the likely next round of Republican leaders are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who reduced his own prospects with a poorly received response to Obama’s nationally televised joint address to Congress earlier this year. But Romney is among a field of 2008 campaigners — along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — who have had their day and may not catch fire a second time, Jillson said.

Among the likely next round of Republican leaders are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who reduced his own prospects with a poorly received response to Obama’s nationally televised joint address to Congress earlier this year.

Obama picked off Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and a promising 2012 prospect, by naming him ambassador to China. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is putting himself forward, but may have too much baggage to get traction.

“It also helps [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry,” said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report political newsletter in Austin. “By 2012 they will be letting Texans back into the District without a passport.”

Question marks attend discussion of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose decision not to seek a third term renewed speculation that he may run for president. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist worked his way to a high profile in last year’s campaign, but wouldn’t fare well with the party’s conservative base.

Another pressing issue for Republicans, in light of the Sanford flameout, is whether conservative white males from the South are the future of the party — an uncertainty that won’t help Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor currently making the rounds of Iowa and New Hampshire.

“All those names are still alive, but the bigger question is whether we see a repeat of the 2008 equation, which was that the path to the White House runs through the Senate” and not state capitals, said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

Among Republicans in Congress aspiring to the party’s short list are Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota — a front-runner to be chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the party’s No. 4 leadership spot — that was recently vacated by Ensign.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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