Chris Christie (Julio Cortez/AP)
It's that time of year. Presidential candidates are cozying up to their prominent friends and colleagues to ask for their public support ahead of the 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination.
Just this week, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney each rolled out high-profile endorsements. Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Bobby Jindal of Lousiana endorsed Perry, while Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and presidential candidate, endorsed Romney.
But some of the biggest names in the Republican party have kept their mouths shut--and the public guessing--about whom they plan to endorse. Below, we rank the five most coveted Republican endorsers (omitting those who are currently running) and explain why they're a big deal and what the signs indicate about their plans for 2012.
6. Haley Barbour: An endorsement from Barbour, the Mississippi governor, provides access to Barbour's extensive fund-raising network stemming from his time as one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists and also from his stint as head of the Republican National Committee. With Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor and a personal friend of Barbour, declining to run, it's unclear whom Barbour would support. Barbour has said he will remain neutral in the primaries, but others suggest the Southern connection makes Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, Barbour's likely pick.
5. Sarah Palin: If she doesn't enter the race herself, the endorsement of the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee will give someone major tea party bona fides as well as major starpower. Palin campaigned for and against many congressional candidates in the 2010 race and has proven her willingness to place herself in the middle of intra-party battles. Many speculated that during Palin's Labor Day weekend swing through Iowa, she would endorse someone. And most thought Perry, a fellow tea party favorite, would be her pick.
4. Jim DeMint: The senator from South Carolina was the original tea party senator. He significantly influenced the 2010 elections with his political action committee, Our Country Deserves Better, and he quickly became something of a kingmaker within the Republican party. His endorsement comes with a tea party stamp of approval, a conservative stamp of approval, and a leg up in the early voting state of South Carolina. DeMint has already inserted himself into the 2012 race--he asked the candidates to show him their stuff at a Labor Day forum he co-hosted and in which he participated as a questioner.
3. Marco Rubio: The junior senator from Florida is a triple threat in the areas of ideology, ethnicity and geography. He is a major tea party star and a favorite of the conservative base; he's of Cuban descent and fluent in Spanish; and he is a statewide officeholder in perhaps the largest swing state in the country (which is also planning to be the fifth state, and the first large state, to vote in the nominating process in 2012.) Rumors of a Rubio vice presidential campaign still continue to circulate despite his repeated attempts to slap them down, but short of a ticket spot, Rubio's endorsement will mean much to his favorite pick. Rubio hasn't offered clues as to whom he would support, but his choice candidate will likely be a conservative.
2. Nikki Haley: There is perhaps no better backer in South Carolina, which will hold the nation's second presidential primary and thinks of itself as the state that could break a potential tie between Iowa and New Hampshire, than the state's popular governor. Candidates have been hounding Haley, tea party star, at dinners, meet and greets, and visits. Last week, she flatly rejected the idea of endorsing Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, for president during an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, suggesting he wasn't someone with whom she could philosophically agree. But she expressed excitement about the rest of the field, saying the candidates have the "brains," "talent" and "executive experience" to defeat President Obama. She has not indicated whom she will support, but she did praise former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's recent debate comments about Republicans joining together to defeat President Obama, and she gushed about Perry on the day of his campaign announcement.
1. Chris Christie: If Republicans can't get New Jersey's governor to run for president, or be the running mate on their ticket, they will certainly settle for his endorsement. Christie, unlike some of the tea party stars on this list, has an appeal that crosses all Republican boundaries. His fans range from Republican moderates in his Democratic-leaning home state to tea party leaders. Christie is known for being a strong fiscal conservative and for being tough and blunt-talking--a reason to believe his endorsement speech and follow-up interviews in the news media would be especially effective.