- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

Barack Obama currently has the worst approval ratings of his presidency. According to a new survey from Rasmussen Reports, only 22 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the right direction. Three years into his term of office, only 25 percent of voters “strongly approve” of the job he’s doing. Having numbers so low should make it difficult to win four more years. Unfortunately, just because Mr. Obama is vulnerable doesn’t mean Republicans will take advantage of the political opportunity.

Right now, it’s not even clear what challengers are in the race. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is in the top three in most straw polls but no one knows if he’s willing to give up his lucrative Fox TV contract to reenter the political fray. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is popular with the conservative GOP base and Tea Party insurgents but has a nice income stream going that’s based on her status as an outsider. Donald Trump has been tearing up the field but it’s anybody’s guess whether he’s really serious about politics long-term. There are some new faces with brave ideas in Congress like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul but it’s questionable a political novice could catch on quickly enough for 2012.

Then there’s a large group that some analysts call also-rans but who would more accurately be described as maybe-rans. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are acting like candidates but have yet to fully commit to the race. Tough New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has done a masterful job taking on entrenched interests to try to prune the Garden State’s overgrown finances but is adamant he’s not interested in the White House. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is interested but hasn’t won over many likely primary voters. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is a competent legislative technician but doesn’t have the star appeal of a standard bearer, while former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has interesting ideas but is unknown nationally.

There are many inspiring individuals in the House of Representatives such as Rep. Michele Bachmann but it’s been 130 years since James Garfield was elected directly to the presidency from the lower chamber, and he’s the only one to pull that off in the entire history of our country. Sen. Rand’s dad, Rep. Ron - the original Dr. Paul in Congress - has devoted libertarian followers and is a fundraising genius but can’t gain traction with the party establishment. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is polished, smart and has impressive business credentials but faces an uphill battle convincing diehards that he’s genuinely conservative and neutralizing the Mormon issue with some voters, especially in the South.

Having 15 candidates on a primary debate stage would be chaotic and make the GOP look leaderless, especially as opponents go on the attack to try to distinguish themselves from the crowd. The damage four more years of Mr. Obama would do to the economy and U.S. global prestige should be enough to motivate Republicans to rally behind the leader who seems to have the best chance of knocking off the Democrat, but who is it? There’s lots of talent out there, but finding Mr. or Mrs. Right isn’t easy in a congested field with no front-runner unifying the elephant herd.