With the 2008 election over, those of us suffering election withdrawal have already begun to look ahead to 2012 as a patch. While any speculation now will likely prove meaningless in a few years, there's no harm in looking at the viability of various candidates. It does seem safe to say that 2012 will be a referendum on Obama's first term. If he can solve any one of the myriad of problems facing the country, he will coast to an easy reelection. But if the change he promises takes some time to occur, the Republicans will go full force against him. Who decides to run may depend on which of those scenarios occurs.
Currently, the most obvious choice is John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she's one of the most well-known Republicans around and will have 4 more years to gain experience and read a newspaper. Electoral Vote even has a theory that she will try to take Ted Stevens' spot in the Senate when he is inevitably kicked out in January. But she is far too polarizing a figure and has been too greatly maligned this campaign to be taken seriously by anyone outside the far right. The only way she'll run against Obama in 2012 is if his first term goes so well that Republicans designate Palin the sacrificial lamb. Then again, perhaps her presidency is the 2012 end of the world prophecy.
With his business background, Mitt Romney is the candidate Republicans wish they had chosen in this election. So with the light at the end of the financial crisis tunnel still miles away, Romney's looking like a solid guess for 2012. But he's got his downsides too. First of all, his viability depends entirely on whether the economy is still the biggest issue four years from now. Secondly, the reason he lost the primaries is because Americans saw him as the fake, sleazy, pandering politician he is. He's unlikely to change that in four years. Lastly, will his wife really let him use up the rest of his fortune on another bid after losing so much last time? The answer to the last question must be yes, because he will certainly try again, even if the results work out just like 2008.
Mike Huckabee would likely only be selected if Obama somehow really did turn the country socialist and people felt a need to go abruptly in the ideologically opposite direction. The person who challenges Obama will need to win back the moderates that backed him, which is not a man who wants Constitutional amendments to follow God's law. But you should never count out the clear winner of the "guy I'd like to have a beer with" contest. He has a way of making the craziest things sound completely reasonable. But while that makes punditry a good fit, he still won't be heading to the White House.
With those three also-rans out of the way, it's time for my early prediction of who will challenge President Obama in 2012:
Bobby Jindal is in many ways the Barack Obama of the Republican party. He's young, he's not white, and Republicans talk about him now the way Democrats talked about Obama in 2004. But he has a couple advantages that even Obama didn't have. He's a governor, so he gets to make the Sarah Palin "executive experience" argument. But unlike Sarah Palin, he was governor of Louisiana during Hurricane Gustav. That will be a huge selling point for any presidential bids. The only reason he might not be chosen is if Obama's first term goes well enough that he seems unbeatable. Jindal is young enough that he can afford to wait 8 years before running, and he might want to wait until he has a better shot. Politicians don't like to wait though, so I'm still predicting President Obama vs. Governor Jindal in 2012.