A $4.6M fixer-upper

The recent exterior repairs to the Charleston County Judicial Center have been completed and the scaffolding has been removed.

WASHINGTON — Huck’s out. So is The Donald. Haley pulled the plug a few weeks back, following John Thune and Mike Pence. These days it seems the race for the GOP presidential nomination is more about who isn’t running than who is.

Is it the challenge of beating an incumbent president or the state of the Republican Party?

“What if they held an election and no one ran? That’s kind of where we are right now,” Curt Anderson, a veteran GOP pollster, said with a chuckle.

That’s not to say there are no GOP candidates. Republicans who have taken steps toward running include former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who was a serious contender for the nomination in 2008, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is considering a run, as well.

But with each I’m-not-running announcement comes a new round of questions within GOP circles: Will New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Jeb Bush stay on the sidelines as they insist? What about Sarah Palin and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels? Is there anyone else who may emerge, say a late entry by Texas Gov. Rick Perry?

“I’ve made my decision,” Perry said in Dallas on Tuesday, insisting anew that he won’t run even though there’s talk among Republicans in Washington, if not in Texas, that he’s waiting to be summoned into the race. Perry did say the field is not fully set and “there are still a number of folks out there who haven’t made a decision.”

So far, it’s a far smaller field than many GOP observers expected, and it’s made up of candidates who aren’t yet quenching the thirst of a primary electorate looking for the strongest Republican to challenge President Barack Obama as he seeks a second term.

“It does look like on the Republican side there is more demand than supply for potential nominees,” said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and adviser to President George W. Bush.

But he insisted: “Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee has a 50/50 shot at being the president.”

Gillespie and other Republicans contend that Obama is not in as strong a position as it might seem after getting a bump in polls following the killing of al-Qaida terror leader Osama bin Laden. They point to an economy that’s still sluggish, unemployment that’s still high and the president’s standing in some battleground states.

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Typically, the Republicans who have recently declined to run have said they were confident a GOP candidate could win the presidency next fall. But it’s hard to see how one maxim in presidential politics didn’t contribute to their decisions: Americans don’t usually like to fire their presidents.

It’s happened three times since the end of World War II. Republican Gerald Ford, who was appointed not elected, lost in 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 and Republican George H.W. Bush lost in 1992.

“That’s probably a factor. The president deceivingly looks very strong right now, and there has to be a hesitancy to get into a race that’s going to be a slugfest and could cost a candidate $1 billion. That might be giving some people pause,” said Frank Donatelli, the chairman of GOPAC, an organization that trains Republicans to run for elective office. “It’s a small field right now. But Obama is so vulnerable that whoever emerges is going to be a credible challenger.”

Others doubt that fear of losing to Obama is much of a consideration — if any at all — as Republicans weigh their options.

“It’s more that people are just sizing up what it takes to run and deciding that they don’t have it in them. These are personal decisions that people make,” Gillespie said.