1. Sarah Palin
It’s amazin’ how quickly her political influence has faded—but the overheated and overvalued political obsession of 2009 and 2010 still has one trick up her sleeve this election cycle: her primary endorsement. The Palin seal of approval could boost the numbers of any candidate in the field by rallying the conservative populist base. Significantly, Palin praised Gingrich back in October when he was stuck in the middle of the pack, saying he would “clobber Barack Obama in any debate” and giving high marks for the way “he seems to be above a lot of the bickering that goes on” at the debates. A Palin endorsement would solidify Gingrich’s status as a conservative alternative to Romney, while Palin also could play spoiler by choosing another candidate.
2. Jeb Bush
His father and brother won’t get into the endorsement game as former presidents, but Jeb has the freedom that comes with being a former swing-state governor and policy leader in the GOP. With Bush family loyalist Karl Rove taking shots at Perry and now Gingrich, it will be interesting to see whether a Bush family member will throw his weight behind Team Romney. This endorsement would signify the establishment’s rallying around Romney, for better or worse. For what it’s worth, Jeb’s son backed Jon Huntsman early on.
3. Terry Branstad
The popular governor of Iowa represents the center-right of the Republican Party in his state. He’s remained mum to date and has only four weeks left to make an impact on the 2012 presidential race. On paper, he’d be a logical Romney fan, but the amiable and mustachioed 2008 Rudy Giuliani supporter has criticized the former Massachusetts governor for spending so little time in the state before November. Branstad’s likely to keep his peace at this stage, but his support still could be a game changer in the Iowa caucuses.
4. Marco Rubio
Everyone’s back-of-the-napkin electoral-math favorite VP nominee has resisted endorsements to date, just as he’s said he would decline an invitation to join the 2012 ticket. But his endorsement could provide dramatic help in the pivotal primary state of Florida, perhaps even more than Jeb Bush’s, though they would be likely to move together if either got in the fray. This rising Senate star could rally Tea Partiers as well as Hispanics in the Sunshine State, the traditional tiebreaker for the January primaries.
5. Jim DeMint
This is the ultimate two-fer endorsement: a national Tea Party leader and South Carolina senator. More than any one else in the Palmetto State, DeMint could shift momentum if he decides to endorse. A rumor that he would back Romney was quickly swatted down by the senator’s staff, and he seems sanguine about supporting any nominee over Barack Obama. But DeMint is the real power player in S.C. politics, known for corralling the congressional delegation in his direction by any means necessary.
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