Actually winner may not be the appropriate term.  What we’re talking about is a completely opinion-based review of the potential Republican hopefuls for the 2012 run for the White House.  I’ll warn you now, that this is solely my opinion, based on some facts, but wholly tilted towards how I personally see things; take it for what it’s worth.

The top-tier hopefuls would include Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich.  Don’t hate cause I haven’t identified your favorite candidate in this group.  This is what I’m seeing, not based on the moment.

The next group down would include Mitch Daniels, Donald Trump, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.  I call these speculative candidates.  It may well be that Mike Huckabee is purely a speculative candidate as well as he’s giving no indication one way or the other, however because of his high poll ratings and his past candidacy, until otherwise indicated I’ve put him in the top tier.

Moving down the list we find Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.

So where is Sarah Palin? Not in the list because I truly don’t believe she will run.  Sarah Palin, despite liberal pabulum, is a very intelligent woman; intelligent enough to know that if she runs “she” rather than the real issues facing the country will control the discussion.  The liberal media simply will not allow Governor Palin to get out her vision of our country’s future.  Sarah Palin is a patriot and therefore I believe she will not allow the media’s visceral hatred of her to produce another Obama term.  Expect to see Sarah in 2016 should Obama win a second term.

Now, before you get completely enraged by where I placed people, understand that I’m not rating them by how I judge their chances or my personal opinion of them.  It’s completely based on their experience and my belief of their fund raising skills.  I’ll get to my assessment of each as a candidate below.

Mitt Romney is a very smart businessman.  I am not very impressed by his performance as the chief executive of Massachusetts.  His off and on again conservative stance is enough of an impediment to question whether he could generate the passion necessary to get people to the polls.  Romneycare is going to haunt him throughout the primaries and could tamp down enthusiasm sufficiently to hand Obama a second term.  In 1960 John Kennedy’s catholic faith was believed by many to be a major flaw, and may have contributed to the closeness of the race, however in the end it didn’t stop him from being elected.  Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and think what you might about his faith, it will be an issue in some people’s minds. Fund raising is not an issue for Mitt.

Haley Barbour is a true conservative’s conservative.  He’s got a vault full of favors he can call in, sufficient to deliver both dollars and turnout.  His major flaw is also one of the reasons for his strength, and that’s years as a lobbyist.  Not to dismiss his very favorable leadership as Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour will be portrayed for his time as a lobbyist and as Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Many will consider Haley as a lightweight in this field, however to do so is folly.

Mike Huckabee is probably the nicest person in the field.  He has a strong appeal to independents and fairly decent conservative credentials; the key being “fairly decent.”  Many conservatives have been very critical of Governor Huckabee’s comments and actions over the last decade.  Personally I would consider Gov. Huckabee as a moderate conservative.  His television show has allowed him far better recognition than he had last time around, however with a successful new career does he have the fire in the belly?  I think not and because of that I do not expect him to run.  If I’m wrong, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Newt Gingrich is the smartest of the potential candidates, hands down.  His fund raising for his political action committee shows that he’ll likely be a contender in the money game.  Newt has some issues that may or may not be consequential.  Three marriages isn’t going to appeal to some segments of the Republican base.  Some have criticized his involvement in the global warming debate and his association with some liberal icons.  Will the marriages or his advocacy for the greenies be fatal flaws?  Too early to tell.  I’d love to see Newt debate Obama, if he were to make it that far.

Tim Pawlenty is probably in the toughest spot.  Why?  Governor Pawlenty is still a bit of an enigma to the base.  Pawlenty might be a good executive with a strong conservative heart, but he seems to be having issues making an impression.  Separating himself from the rest of the field is critical otherwise the lack of excitement will likely lead to fund raising challenges and an early departure from the race.  Whether his political handlers can tune Pawlenty so he is seen as a standout is yet to be determined, however past history of reserved candidates does not bode well for him.  The term charisma is thrown about freely when a better term may be firebrand.  If Pawlenty isn’t able to light a fire in the Republican base his best hope will be as a vice presidential candidate.

Governor Mitch Daniels has proven to be an extraordinary executive.  Being a strong manager with great ideas may or may not be enough to push him to the top.  Daniels suffers from much the same affliction as Tim Pawlenty, though arguably Daniels experience in the Bush administration gives him better name recognition, he has yet to show an ability to create excitement.  I don’t expect this to be an issue as I’d be shocked if he ran.  He has made it clear through numerous statements that he just doesn’t have the fire in his belly.  Whether he will find it is anyone’s guess, but mine is that he will not run.

Donald Trump…where do I begin?  Is “The Donald” a serious candidate?  Who knows.  Arguably the strongest deal maker of the last quarter century, will that be enough to drive him through a primary season?  Does Trump even want to be the president, or is he just enjoying the additional attention?  Donald Trump has proven he is  the “firebrand” of this field.  Trump takes no prisoners.  It’s both a strength and a weakness.  If he were able to prove, regardless of what you or anyone else thinks, that Obama was not born in the U.S. there’s nothing that could stop him.  Such a thing would stand the world on it’s ear.  Of course you’re more likely to trip over the Hope Diamond than that occurring, and in lieu of that he’ll be fighting the label of a nut-case for the rest of his very short political career.  Fund raising isn’t a issue; with the stroke of a pen he could be on par with the immense dollars Obama will bring to the race.  Here’s my prediction: If Trump is able to find something tangible about Obama’s birth he runs, if not, he doesn’t.  It’s that simple.

If you’ve got strong libertarian leanings you love Ron Paul.  That being said, there’s not enough libertarians or libertarian leaning conservatives to get him very far.  Paul will get his moment in the sun, but it won’t take him past the South Carolina primary.  The dollars are simply not there.

Rick Santorum is his own worst enemy.  He has the habit of putting his proverbial foot in his mouth from time to time.  A strong conservative and one I personally like very much, he just isn’t likely to get the traction necessary to head a ticket.  Look for Santorum to show up on the short-list for vice president.

Michele Bachmann has everything going for her except for one very big and likely impenetrable wall to breach and that’s being a member of the House of Representatives.  Only once in our more than 200 years of history has a sitting member of the House been elected president and that was James Garfield in 1880; though a Tea Party stalwart, history is simply not on her side.  This fact is likely to make her current fund raising bonanza peter out fairly quickly as the field settles.  If I were to bet it would be that Bachmann will not run.  She’s got too much to gain in the House and the strong possibility of future senatorial opportunities to spend her Tea Party strength on a failed presidential nomination run.  Bachmann would still be a contender for filling out a ticket as vice president, but I don’t see a presidential run in the near future.

Which brings me to Cain, Roemer and Huntsman.  Herman Cain is the giant of my final tier.  His lone issue is name recognition, which is not yet a fatal issue to his aspirations.  A brilliant business mind and exceedingly well spoken, with more time Cain would be a force to be reckoned with.  Does he have the time with this field being so late to congeal?  Probably not.  Roemer is a man looking for a mission, but without a following.  Roemer, even with a strong history as a Governor, just isn’t going to light any fires.  Roemer will simply not be able to raise enough funds to generate any traction whatsoever.  Huntsman’s race was over before it started, and it may never start.  His letter to Obama, now making the rounds on the Internet, is as close to a nuclear warhead to his political aspirations as is possible.  Though he can claim he was showing respect to someone that put him in the role as Ambassador to China, it’s simply not going to wash.  Huntsman is a smart enough man that I’d bet that he’ll either not run, or make a hasty departure.

Remember, at this point no one has formally declared.  Exploratory committees are fund raising nets.  If nothing comes in when the net is retrieved, you move on to another spot, in this case outside the ranks of hopefuls.  Money, sadly, is king when it comes to such things.  Getting a ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire takes money, and it takes money to make money.  You don’t need to win in Iowa, but if you’re down in the weeds, the money won’t follow.  Same goes for New Hampshire.  And winning in either place isn’t a guarantee as Mike Huckabee can attest.  The goal may be to win, but ultimately it’s not to be near the bottom.

So, at this point, many of you may be saying, okay, you’ve given your opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of the field, but you’ve failed to stake any ground on who you’d favor and why.  True.  And the answer is that I’m better prepared to say who I wouldn’t want to see that who I would.  I’m at the point where I can read a bit of tea leaves (pardon the pun) as to whom I believe will be in or out; who I see as having some staying power and who I think is taking a stroll in the park, but beyond that it’s all personal preference.  There are a number of people I could support, some of which I’d give no chance, however, at the risk of demonstrating my lunacy, I’ll give it a whirl.

My personal two favorites are Haley Barbour and Newt Gingrich.  I have no idea if their weaknesses can be surmounted or not, I’d just love to see either of them against Barack Obama.  Haley’s plain spoken common sense against Professor Obama gives me tingles up my leg, thank you Mister Mathews.  Newt Gingrich is a master of analysis and a maven of history.  I don’t think anyone in the pool of candidates could dissect Obama in a debate the way Newt would.  I’d have to buy a double sized barrel of popcorn for that event.

Looking further into the field I truly like Herman Cain.  In my opinion America is ready for a businessman in the White House.  I have great respect for Mr. Cain, and though I’d like to see him go far, I’m afraid it’s just pie-in-the-sky.

Though I’m willing to accept that my personal preferences are probably going to end up where they usually do, right in the circular file, this is the season where hope reigns supreme.  I’ll hang on to my wishes for now, and accept that regardless of how it comes out, anyone but Obama is someone I can support.