GOP Voters Look Ahead to Future Nominees

By Fred Lucas | September 4, 2008 | 10:28 AM EDT

St. Paul, Minn. ( – The speaking roster on night three of the Republican National Convention is seen by some delegates here as an audition for the 2012 or 2016 Republican primaries.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, introduced herself to most of the nation Wednesday, while former GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani all addressed the convention as well.
The next Republican presidential nominee will, of course, depend on circumstances – especially who wins the presidential race in November. But some convention-goers here already have an idea who it should be in four to eight years.
“If McCain-Palin win, Palin can be a contender to be the first woman president,” Norman Adams, a delegate from Houston, Texas, told “I was a Huckabee supporter. But I don’t think Huckabee could pull the votes she could pull. She’s got youth. She’s a female and she’s a mom.”
Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus and several southern states during the 2008 Republican primary, has been a favorite among social conservatives for his opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage, but he dismayed some fiscal conservatives with the tax increases he signed while he was governor of Arkansas.
Speaking at the convention, Huckabee sounded a popular, Republican small-government theme. “I’m not a Republican because I grew up rich, but because I didn't want to spend the rest of my life poor, waiting for the government to rescue me,” Huckabee said.
Huckabee, who started HuckPAC to raise money for other Republican candidates, is scheduled to speak Thursday to a gathering of the Maryland Republican delegation.

Adams said Palin’s standing could change if the Republicans lose this year, but he believes she is still a strong candidate for the future.
“When Geraldine Ferraro (the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee) lost, she never came back. But this is different. Palin has the youth,” he said.
Less than two years into her first term, Palin was elected as a reform candidate, beating an incumbent Alaska Republican governor in the primary and a two-term former Democratic Alaska governor in the general election. With an 80 percent approval rating in her state, she is a favorite of both independents and social conservatives, and she got a rock star reception from the GOP convention audience Wednesday.
However, some Democrats (and Republicans) have raised questions about whether she’s experienced enough to serve as vice president.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) believes Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, could be the next Republican presidential nominee.
“Mitt Romney has certainly put himself in a great place for the future,” Flake told “After John McCain serves eight years, it will be open for Mitt Romney. He is in a great spot.”
Romney – popular among many fiscal conservatives for his business experience -- scored victories mostly in Western states during the Republican primary season. Though he positioned himself as a conservative during the presidential race, he was unable to outrun his record of supporting abortion, homosexual rights and opposition to Second Amendment rights.
“Liberals would replace opportunity with dependency on government largesse,” Romney told the convention hall on Wednesday. “They would grow government and raise taxes to put more people on Medicaid, to work requirements out of welfare, and to grow the ranks of those who pay no taxes at all. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity.”
Romney, who formed a Strong America PAC to help fund Republican candidates, is scheduled to speak to a gathering of the Ohio GOP delegation in St. Paul Thursday.
It’s either Palin or Romney as the successor to McCain, predicts Lane Watts, a delegate from Fayetteville, Ga.
“The future of the party is Sarah Palin, and the opposition realizes that too,” Watts told “That’s why they are digging up stuff on her. I was a Mitt Romney supporter in the Georgia primary. He is high up on the list for 2012.”
Meanwhile, Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who was widely praised for his leadership after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, delivered a blistering attack on Obama to rouse the crowd. He also articulated praise for the party.
“We began as a party dedicated to freeing people from slavery,” Giuliani said. “We are still the party that is willing to fight for freedom at home and around the world. We are the party that wants to expand individual freedom and economic freedom.”
Giuliani was a strong front runner for months, and had a solid fiscal conservative record while serving as mayor. However, Giuliani got little traction with social conservatives, given his support of abortion, gun control and homosexual rights.
Giuliani may continue to have influence in the party, but not as a successful presidential candidate, Texas delegate Steve Thompson said
“He didn’t get a lot of votes,” Thompson told “That’s despite the fact that he had a lot of support from the mainstream media who all said it was going to be Giuliani vs. Hillary.”
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford could be a dark horse candidate in four to eight years, said former House Majority Leader Richard Armey.
“It is probably someone you or I aren’t thinking about, maybe the current governor of South Carolina,” Armey told “There are a lot of people who will make their mark on American politics between now and then.”
In past elections, the runner up from a previous cycle frequently manages to win the nomination. Ronald Reagan, who lost his challenge to President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, won the presidency in 1980. Bob Dole won the party’s nomination in 1996 after three bids for the GOP nod. McCain captured the nomination in 2008 after being the runner up against George W. Bush in 2000.
Tony Blankley, former White House aide to Reagan and later former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said it’s not that easy.
“We never had the sense that Reagan was given the presidency. We had to fight like dogs,” Blankley said. “McCain was not given the nomination by party elders. He benefited from the lack of a strong conservative in a five-way race. … It’s a weird history that the guy who runs before always gets it, but I don’t think they got it by gift. I think they’ve got to fight for it.”
If McCain wins, Palin is the likely successor for the nomination in eight years, Blankley said. However, it is more of a toss-up if Obama wins this year.
“It could be a huge brawl in the Republican Party about where the future goes,” Blankley said. “Romney would have the Chamber of Commerce, free market voters. Huckabee and Palin would be in a dog fight for the social conservatives. There may be others. I don’t know if any of them would be a dominant or predictable winner.”