AP – 2012 already? GOP wannabes jockeying early – does Barbour have a chance?

Pawlenty, for instance, caused a stir among insiders recently with a series of bobbles. In one case, the Minnesota governor seemed to suggest that moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who sided with Democrats on Obama’s health care reform in a Senate Finance Committee vote, shouldn’t be part of the GOP. Pawlenty later made clear that she should.

For now, the field is wide open with 2008 GOP nominee John McCain on the sidelines after his loss to Obama. Republicans are struggling to figure out precisely what they want in their next leader and how to reshape a party facing big challenges following painful national election setbacks in 2006 and 2008.

Consider that Democrats won the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in 2008 in a friendly political environment. It had turned so sour just one year later that Republicans booted Democrats from power in Virginia and New Jersey.

“The results made clear the American people don’t like where the Democrats are trying to take our country,” declared Haley Barbour, the Republican Governors Association chairman who will preside over a gathering of GOP governors in Texas next week.

Coming the same week as Palin’s book tour, the gathering is certain to feed 2012 buzz — for Barbour and Pawlenty, as well as other possible candidates — if not this time than maybe next — like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Barbour, Mississippi’s governor and a former national GOP chairman, ascended to the RGA chairmanship this summer around the time he visited Iowa and New Hampshire. He was credited with helping Republicans win in Virginia and New Jersey, and helping recruit a strong field of 2010 gubernatorial candidates. The question: Does a party with diversity issues want a white Southerner who is a former lobbyist as the party’s face?