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« SRLC: Health Care The Top Rallying Cry | Blog Home Page | SRLC: Republicans Seek Unity For 2010 »

Three Republicans To Watch In 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty all skipped this year's Southern Republican Leadership Conference. They once stood alone as the three frontrunners for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, but two others stepped up this week and solidified their spots at least alongside them at the top of the ladder.

Rick Perry, still relatively unknown nationally for someone who governed Texas for the last 10 years, and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, delivered presidential candidate-esque speeches on the first two days of the conference. With delegates from 14 southern states on hand, their appearances could help lay a foundation for a national bid -- if they do indeed decide to run.

Before either spoke, one high ranking Republican official brought up both names to RealClearPolitics as two of the three Republicans, along with Mitt Romney, with the best chance of defeating President Obama.

Gingrich, known around the country for nearly two decades, openly addressed the subject, saying he would decide whether to run for president by next February. He offered his usual command of the issues and history, and displayed his ability to be both wonky and energetic.

Words don't do justice for Perry, whose arm movements and speaking style make lines from his speeches far more dramatic than they seem on paper. He's currently running for re-election, but is clearly attempting to build a national following.

Perry interrupted his speech to direct the audience to text "FIRED UP" to his text messaging service, a tactic the Obama campaign successfully utilized in 2008.

He also offered a campaign slogan for those running for Congress this year, but sounds like something he could say in two years as well: "I'm going to go to Washington D.C. and make it as inconsequential in your life as I can."

The third Republican to watch isn't someone likely to run for president in 2012, but she could become a fast-rising player in Congress. With a calm speaking style, Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, delivered a biting, even-tempered speech that received perhaps the biggest ovation of the conference so far.

Cheney said last June that she wouldn't run this year but left the door open to a future bid. As a Northern Virginia resident, Cheney could have a couple options: Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) is up for re-election in 2012, and if 10th District Rep. Frank Wolf (R) wins re-election this year, he will be on retirement watch after serving 30 years in Congress.

"2010 and 2012 are going to be critical years in the long history of this great republic," Cheney said Thursday night. "We have to stand up and fight."

Republicans will be pushing her to do just that.