Washington Post – Barbour moved down two to No. 4 “Republican Influencers,” possible 2012 candidate

Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge’s no-go Senate decision on Thursday robbed Republicans of a potentially appealing face to lead their party back to relevancy in 2010.

Ridge, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the first head of the Homeland Security department, has a deep resume both in Congress and as a governor and a moderate record that could appeal to the crucial independent voting bloc that President Obama so dominated in 2008.

But, it was not to be, leaving Republicans to continue searching for candidates running for statewide office in 2010 that can be poster boys (and girls) of their comeback. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to run for Senate, could fill that role — although he may too moderate for some in the party base. Former Ohio representative Rob Portman, a candidate for the open Ohio Senate seat, is also a fresh young face but may be weighed down from his service in the much-derided Bush administration.

Below you’ll find our Line on the ten Republicans with the most influence over the current direction of the party. This should not be taken as a proxy for who will be the 2012 nominee as a number of the leading candidates on this list won’t (or can’t) be candidates in three years time.

The number one ranked Republican is the single most influential person within the party at the moment. Agree or disagree with our picks? The comments section awaits.

4. Haley Barbour: Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, is, without doubt, the most critical behind-the-scenes strategist in the Republican party at the moment. Barbour’s experience as RNC Chairman during the early 1990s is seen as essential to bringing back the party once again. We’ve written before that one of Barbour’s great strengths within the party is that because he has no further national aspirations he can be a neutral broker among the 2012 candidates. Now, we’re not so sure that Barbour might not take a hard look at 2012 . . . . (Previous ranking: 2)

3. Newt Gingrich: Gingrich’s presence at the White House earlier this week to talk education reform is a recognition that he is the de facto “ideas guy” within the Republican Party. In a party that is widely seen as devoid of any new ideas, that is a powerful place to be. Gingrich’s smarts are unquestioned by strategists in both parties but will his sizable ego get in the way of the obvious good he can do for the GOP? (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Sarah Palin: We just don’t know what to do with the Alaska governor. We’ve ranked her as high as number one on this list and as low as number six (in last month’s Line). Looked at one way, Palin is a disaster — a political team rife with divisions and miscommunication, faltering poll numbers in Alaska and a penchant for winding up on the cover of tabloids. Looked at another, Palin is the prime mover in Republican politics. An example: when Cantor unveiled the National Council for a New America, the first question asked by every reporter was whether Palin was involved and, if not, why not. (She, eventually, said she would be involved.) Palin remains an extremely powerful brand in Republican politics despite her (and her team’s) unwitting attempts to devalue that brand. (Previous ranking: 6)

1. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor claims the top spot for the third straight Line. Why? He is still the Republican that is the closest the party has to the complete package. Romney can — and does — speak from a position of authority on economic issues and has begun to broaden his criticism of Obama to include the sphere of foreign policy as well. On the political front, Romney is unmatched — he has kept an active presence via his Free and Strong America PAC and continues to travel the country in support of candidates. (Previous ranking: 1)