Though the Republican presidential primaries are some 14 months away, the groundwork now being set will separate those who are likely to be serious contenders from the also-rans, writes veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal.
Rove calls this crucial stage-setting process the "invisible primaries" in which the candidates compete to distill their messages, raise cash, and put together cohesive campaign staffs.
He dismisses current polling numbers — showing Mitt Romney way ahead — as reflecting "little more than name recognition."
Rove lauds New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and Sen. Marco Rubio, also of the Sunshine State, for raising significant money for the Republican cause — not specifically for their own needs — money that will help elect GOP candidates to governors' mansions and Congress.
He's less positive about politicians who have focused exclusively on their own campaigns, mentioning as examples Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, both of Texas; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; and, to a much lesser extent, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
He credits Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, both of Wisconsin, with working to craft a positive and substantive Republican platform. He characterizes Paul's message as "sometimes incoherent," though he credits him for his outreach to "nontraditional constituencies."
A viable presidential contender is someone who has successfully raised real money, Rove says.
In that department, he gives high marks to Christie and Bush. He also notes that in running for re-election, Walker raised big money as did Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — a track record that could help them if they plan to go national.
Others who've demonstrated money-raising prowess, led by Rubio and Ryan, are Cruz and Paul. Lots of small donations, amounting to over $11 million, has also been raised by supporters of Ben Carson, the conservative African-American physician.
Rove says potential candidates are also competing for personnel with the ability to come together to build a winning campaign.
By next fall, the relative success of all these behind-the-scenes efforts will begin to be reflected in public opinion surveys, Rove writes.
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