Back in May, I wrote a follow-up to a February piece regarding the impact of the 2010 elections on the 2012 presidential campaign. In both pieces I stressed how important it was for any Republican presidential candidate to be out there campaigining for GOP candidates nationwide, not only helping them win but also picking up goodwill (and IOUs) in the process.
The model for this was 1966, when the tarnished Richard Nixon (loser in 1960 presidential race, 1962 California gubenatorial race) campaigned tirelessly for Republicans throughout the country. Following the 1964 Republican debacle, the GOP made significant inroads in the '66 elections, providing Nixon with a whole lot of both goodwill and IOUs - and credibility, which may just have been enough to help him hold off Ronald Reagan and win the 1968 Republican nomination, and subsequently the presidency.
My assertion was that the GOP needed a leader who could become the public face of the party: "[s]omeone to speak for the party in the media, to energize the base and rally the troops, to campaign for Republicans nationwide and hold the administration’s feet to the fire." Using history and precedent as a backdrop, I concluded that logic pointed in the direction of Newt Gingrich, and at this early date I'm still inclined to that opinion.
However, I also added this caveat:
McCain’s running mate might fit the bill, depending on who it is and whether or not this person had come through the campaign without being tainted by defeat or antagonizing activists in either wing of the party. A tall order, but parties have traditions of looking at former running mates as potential candidates, so anything’s possible.
Which leads me to the results of this week's run-off election for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, won handily by Republican Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss got a lot of national Republican support in winning that critical election, but none perhaps as important as that of the vice presidential candidate, one Sarah Palin:
“I can't overstate the impact she had down here,” Chambliss said during an interview Wednesday morning on Fox News.
“When she walks in a room, folks just explode,” he added. “And they really did pack the house everywhere we went. She's a dynamic lady, a great administrator, and I think she's got a great future in the Republican Party.”
Chambliss said that after watching her campaign on his behalf at several events Monday, he does not see her star status diminishing within the party.
The Republican also thanked John McCain and the other big name Republicans that came to Georgia, but said Palin made the biggest impact.
“We had John McCain and Mike Huckabee and Gov. Romney and Rudy Giuliani, but Sarah Palin came in on the last day, did a fly-around and, man, she was dynamite,” he said. “We packed the houses everywhere we went. And it really did allow us to peak and get our base fired up.” (H/T Greg Pollowitz at NRO's Media Blog.)
Now, 2010 is still a long way away, let alone 2012. But methinks the race for 2010 (which is really the starting point for 2012) has already begun. And although that race is sure to be a long one, if history is any indication there's one thing we know for sure: there's already a leader.