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Hotline Presidential Power Rankings put Romney on top, dismiss Tea Party

With just over 14 months remaining before the Iowa Caucus, National Journal’s The Hotline has released its Presidential Power Rankings, assessing the viability of 15 Republicans who might mount bids to become their party’s representative in the race against President Obama.

The list breaks the potential candidates down into four separate tiers that, rather than revealing the strength of each candidate, indicate what sections of the Republican base The Hotline believes will play the most prominent role in selecting the nominee. The publication essentially dismisses the 2010 uprising of the Tea Party movement as a force in Republican primaries, with the “Tea Party Tier” at the bottom of the list. The Hotline gives most weight to the traditional-style candidates, known as “The A-List Tier.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sits atop this pack, followed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, North Dakota Sen. John Thune and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The Hotline points to Romney’s experience in previous primary elections:

The GOP has a history of nominating the person who has stood in line, and after finishing second behind John McCain in 2008, Romney is now that person. He’s got the necessary infrastructure, fundraising ability, and intangibles to be the undisputed front-runner, but how convincingly he answers nagging questions about his individual mandate in Commonwealth Care will determine how long he keeps the top spot.

That last point is not just a minor distraction Romney can brush off on the campaign trail. His passage of health care reform during his tenure as Massachusetts governor has already made him a lightning rod for criticism. The legislation bears strong similarities to the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010, with the individual mandate especially toxic among today’s Republican base voters.

Similar problems face the remaining A-Tier candidates on The Hotline’s list. Thune voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, support for which has already toppled Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and drawn conservative ire for numerous other Republicans. And few politicians carry the establishment label quite like Barbour, a former lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Though they’re termed the “The Fox News Tier,” the second class of candidates in The Hotline’s rankings really represent the standard bearers of the Tea Party movement. Ranking from fifth to eighth are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.

Where The Hotline’s write-up of its first four candidates relied primarily on their similarities to the qualities of past primary winners, everyone in this second tier is described in the terms that truly matter in running primary campaigns: the way voters receive them. Huckabee is a “charismatic man in the field.” Gingrich is “greeted like a rock star at every GOP rally he attends.” The Hotline notes but does not give much weight to Pence’s victory in the Value Voters Summit straw poll, a key indication that the Indiana representative draws significant support from an important element of the Republican base.

With over a year to go until the first actual election in the nomination process, there is still plenty of time for political dynamics to shift. At this point 14 months ago, the Tea Party was still a nascent concept with little organizational power. But the current direction of political dynamics after the 2010 elections indicates that these voters will play a prominent role in selecting the Republicans’ 2012 candidate.

Patrick Caldwell is a reporter for The American Independent.

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