GOP Dark Horses for 2012

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Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn

At first glance, Tom Coburn doesn't necessarily seem like a presidential contender.  He doesn't come from a hugely important state (electorally speaking), he doesn't appear to have the financial network to support a run for the White House, and he hasn't expressed any burning desire - at least so far - to be president.

Yet Coburn, who's still a practicing physician when he's back home in Muskogee, has achieved something approaching legendary status as a deficit hawk since entering the Senate in 2004.  Known as "Dr. No" for his willingness to use any means necessary to shut down budget-busting legislation and earmarks from colleagues on both sides of the ailse, Coburn has mounds of credibility with the base of the Republican party.

Coburn has also raised his profile recently by being one of the strongest and most outspoken critics of President Obama and the Democrats' health care proposals. 

Nor is there any question about Coburn's credentials on social issues, a critically important component of the Republican primary process. Indeed, if Coburn has a weakness it may be that Democrats would try to brand him as an "extremist" on social issues. That same ploy failed when Democrats tried it in his '04 Senate race against conservative Democrat Brad Carson, but most of the country is far less "red" than Oklahoma.

Then again, social issues may very well take a back seat in 2012 to concerns that are in Coburn's wheelhouse: jobs, the economy, and the ballooning deficit. In a recent (and surprisingly flattering) profile in the New York Times, Coburn downplayed social issues as not being "important right now" given the "fiscal ruin" he believes the country is facing. The Times quoted Coburn as saying, "If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issues. That is the biggest moral issue of our time."

That is the kind of message that could not only win him the Republican nomination but could resonate with a much broader audience as well.

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