Republicans ended a conservative conference Saturday where they began, with little idea who they will pick to lead them against President Barack Obama in 2012.
The 11,000-strong Conservative Political Action Conference over the past three days heard from a lengthy list of potential Republican candidates who may be part of a crowded 2012 field.
Fresh from making big gains in the 2010 congressional elections, Republicans said their objective now is win the White House and Senate and use a conservative majority to tackle debt and deficits.
One possible candidate, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, told the group Saturday that winning the House of Representatives last year was “a pretty good start.”
“Our House majority only gives us control of one-half of one-third of our national government,” Barbour said. “We can’t put America on the right track until we elect a Republican president in 2012.”
He said Obama’s policies have been hostile to job creation and that the $869 billion economic stimulus “only stimulated more government.”
“Never forget a bigger government means a smaller economy,” he said.
Formal announcements are expected in a matter of weeks and months from likely contenders including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
A number of potential candidates used the conservative conference as a platform to road-test their themes and messages, but it did not appear that any single politician rose appreciably above the others.
The results of a straw poll of those attending were to be released later in the day. But if last year’s tally is any indication, the critical issue may be who comes in second.
Last year the big winner was Texas Representative Ron Paul and he could win again this year, but the conservative with a cult-like following is viewed by analysts as having no chance to win the nomination.
In 2010’s straw poll, Paul won 31%, Romney 22% and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a distant third with 7%.
Whoever Republicans eventually select will face a formidable opponent in Obama in 2012, political analysts say.
A Public Policy Polling this week found that Obama is leading those who are considered the main Republican contenders in eight battleground states.
“If he stood for re-election today against one of the current Republican front-runners, Obama would almost certainly win the same number of electoral votes as he did in 2008, if not more,” the survey said in a blog post.
Two potential candidates with star power, Palin and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, did not attend the conference.
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