Top Democrats in and outside the White House, speaking on background so they could be more candid, suggest that former US Ambassador to China and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would be the GOP candidate President Obama would least like to face in 2012 -- but they think he can't win the nomination.
The very qualities that make Huntsman formidable in November 2012 -- his centrism and bipartisanship -- will work against him in Iowa and South Carolina, Democrats say.
White House senior adviser David Plouffe was years ago quoted saying the notion of a Huntsman candidacy made him "queasy."
Another possible tough contender would be Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, they say, while also envisioning ways that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would mount tough campaigns. Many top Democrats say they anticipate Romney will be the nominee since Republican party has a history of giving the nomination to the next guy in line.
Even though the president is enjoying a bounce in his job approval ratings after the successful mission against Osama bin Laden, White House officials say this will be a tough re-election.
The president has told friends he "caught lightning in a bottle" in 2008, and even catching every break, Obama only won with 53% of the vote, with 47% of the country voting against him -- a number Democrats say isn't going to go down in 2012, with an economy still on the mend, high unemployment and skyrocketing gas prices.
"If gas prices are still high in October 2012, it will be a problem," a top Democrat said.
All that said, top Democrats say they have very few metrics with which to measure the GOP field. At this point in the 2008 campaign there had been fundraising competitions and debates involving the major candidates; that is not the case with the Republicans this year.