The Big Questions: ’12 Takes Shape


Mark Halperin’s answers from this week’s issue of TIME.

Why is the 2012 race starting so slowly?
No one is in a hurry to jump in because there isn’t a strong-armed front runner threatening to squash the rest of the pack the way George W. Bush did in 2000. None of the hopefuls want the scrutiny or expense that goes with becoming an official candidate. And no one but the most fervent activists and hyperpolitical reporters is itching to get another election under way.

Is the field already being winnowed?
Right now seven contenders have the best shot at the GOP nomination. They fall into two brackets: the Fox News analysts (Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich) and the traditionalists (Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels). Barring surprises, Romney, Pawlenty and Gingrich are sure bets to join the fray. But it is impossible to know what the others will do. In top GOP circles, the smart money is that Barbour gets in and vies with Romney to be the Establishment favorite, while Palin, Huckabee and Daniels take a pass, for reasons personal, financial and sundry. Daniels’ aides insist he is giving it a serious look.

Is Obama beatable?

Sure. Even with his surging poll numbers, powerful Tucson moment and chance at a $1 billion war chest, Obama is vulnerable. Focus on two numbers: eight and 105. Sharpies in both parties believe a jobless rate over 8% would be a barrier to the President’s re-election; 105 is the number of electoral votes Obama won in 2008 in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — all of which could shift to the GOP column unless he improves his standing with women and independents. Losing those states could leave him short of the 270 electoral votes he will need for four more years.

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