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The A, B, C and D lists of Presidential Politics

Larry Sabato, the noted University of Virginia commentator, likes to divide up the prospective candidates for President according to tiers. First tier, second tier, third tier, that sort of thing. All very scientific. But me, I prefer to track the Presidential candidates the way the tabloids track Hollywood Stars.

In the case of celebrities there are A listers, B listers, C listers, and D listers. And what list you’re on determines parties you get invited to, who is seen with whom, and who gets the most pictures taken by the paparazzi. A Listers get the doors flung open wherever they go. B listers are the ones who arrive in the second wave of limousines. The

commentators usually know their names and make comments about how they’re on their way up, or, on their way down. C listers are good when you can’t find anyone else. As for D listers, they’re either so new that no one knows them or so over the hill or so “out there” that no one knows how they got invited.

A That’s not a bad way to sort out the GOP Presidential field for 2012. Sarah Palin for example is an A lister. She may not make that good a candidate for President, but like any true A lister she is on the invite list to everybody’s party. Mike Huckabee is another A lister. He really wants to be President and has enough buzz around him to always make him a sought-after guest. Mississippi’s Haley Barbour is on the A list too. He has terrific A lister credentials, and with that deep southern drawl he is bound to be a hit at any A lister party.

B Now, to the B list. Mitt Romney, some would argue, should be an A lister. He thinks he is an A lister, but it’s not clear that anyone else does. He’s the sort who will show up at an event and the commentators will note that “…he had such a promising career. What happened.” And then they’ll shake their heads. A little bit better situated is Minnesota’s boy next door, Tim Pawlenty. A former governor he is the first Republican to announce the formation of a Presidential exploratory committee. He is on his way up, and he has a good chance, but since his name recognition is a little weak, he stays on the B list.

C The C list gets a little more crowded. These are prospective candidates who could turn out to be dark horses, if indeed, in this day and age there really is such a thing, and possibly have a shot at the nomination. The Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who just led the way to repealing bargaining rights for public sector union employees in Wisconsin is a popular figure in the party at the moment. If that shine holds and he takes an interest in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who knows. But he isn’t the only Governor who has gotten national attention. Chris Christie, the tough, budget cutting Governor of New Jersey, may get Presidential fever before long. If they prove to have a little more staying power in the national scene, they might move up the list. Though, even if they don’t, they might make good prospects to be Vice Presidential nominees.

D The D list is a little longer. I guess it always is. Leading the D list, though, if there were an F list, he would be on mine, is Donald Trump. To quote Forest Gump, “…that’s all I have to say about that.” But, I’ll keep going. Another, who many claim has a rising star, but alas, one that’s not rising very far, is Michele Bachmann. This third term Congresswoman from Minnesota has gotten a lot of attention. She talked the Tea Party talk and talks tough. But her skills as a candidate, and what she has offered so far in terms of ability, or depth, will probably keep her on the D list. Offering considerably more substance, but still destined to stay on the D list is Senator Rand Paul and his father Representative Ron Paul. Both are destined to be on the fringe of the Republican Party.  Another D lister, popular with the right, but even there, not that popular, is former Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum lost his Pennsylvania seat in 2006. He is a fire brand conservative, but being a defeated former Senator isn’t the best starting place in making a run for the White House. Finally, on the D list, is Newt Gingrich. He is bright, experienced, and articulate, but talking away some of his personal baggage is probably beyond his ability.

The listing works to a point. But this year it’s more fluid than normal. The A list should be more populated. It’s almost as if the Republican Party, while claiming this is the year to beat Obama, in secret, doesn’t believe it can. Or otherwise, the A list would have a lot more names on it. In some respects this parallels 1992. No one in the Democratic Party thought George Bush was beatable. So, all the top Democrats stood down. One of those not on the A list, who didn’t shy away was a guy named Bill Clinton.  He ended up not only being on the A list but also became President.

You may reach The Journal’s A list writer David Kerr by e-mailing him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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