After months of uncertainty, the Republican presidential field is beginning to take shape in advance of next year?s U.S. presidential election. Several high profile Republicans have decided whether to join the race for the White House in 2012, with a surprisingly large number saying ?no?. But one prominent Republican has yet to announce a decision.
The cast of Republican presidential contenders for 2012 seems largely set. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who continues to lead in the latest Gallup poll, is expected to formally join the race soon.
Others who have already taken the plunge include former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who officially launched his campaign earlier in the week.
?The values I learned are America?s values," he said. "I know the American Dream because I have lived it. I am running for president to keep that dream alive.?
But one remaining question mark is former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who has yet to indicate any decision about joining the presidential race. Palin gained national attention as the Republican Party?s vice presidential nominee alongside John McCain in 2008.
Some recent moves by Palin have fueled speculation that she may be mounting a presidential run. Palin reportedly bought a house in Arizona, will be the subject of a documentary film to be released next month, and has made some staff changes, steps that experts say could indicate she is about to join the 2012 field.
Palin has said for months she might get into the race under the right circumstances.
?I would if I believed that is the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin family, certainly I would do so,? se said.
Palin enjoys strong support among evangelical Christian voters and members of the grassroots Tea Party movement pushing for smaller government, both important constituencies within the Republican Party. But Palin has also built a lucrative career as a speaker and conservative commentator that she would have to set aside if she ran for president.
Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says Palin is undeniably popular with conservatives, but remains a polarizing figure with voters overall.
?There are a large number of people who support her strongly, but her numbers for the overall electorate are not good," said Brown. "As I am sure your mother told you when you were growing up, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and at this point the first impression she made on an overall basis is not a positive one with the American people.?
Affect on Bachmann
Palin?s decision could also affect Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who is popular with some of the same conservative groups that Palin is. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum also hopes to appeal to social conservatives. He is expected to formally join the race soon along with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who until recently served as the U.S. ambassador to China.
Although most experts consider Mitt Romney the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, polls show nearly half of Republican voters are dissatisfied with the current field of candidates.
That has prompted speculation that some party activists may try to draft some other well-known Republicans into the race, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas Governor Rick Perry. All three have said they are not interested.
Much of the attention in this early phase of the presidential race is focused on a few states that traditionally hold early caucus or primary contests, including Iowa.
Mike Glover, a long time political correspondent with the Associated Press in Iowa, told the CSPAN public affairs network that Republican voters are looking for a conservative candidate next year who can run a strong race against President Obama.
?They are supposed to pick a candidate who first appeals to the base beliefs of the party," he said. "But also someone who can win a general election and I think the Republican Party, one of the challenges they are going to have this time is picking a candidate who can beat Barack Obama in November of 2012.?
Some Republicans were disappointed that several other potential contenders decided to pass on the 2012 race including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and New York businessman Donald Trump.