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Strike up the bland - Peter Funt

It says here that Mitt Romney will be the Republican Presidential nominee next year.

It also says here that if it's not the former Massachusetts governor, then it will be a fairly dark horse –– someone currently trotting way below the radar. Although a Romney candidacy comes with plenty of overweight political baggage, the rest of the GOP's potential candidates would be even less likely to defeat President Obama in 2012.

According to the punditocracy, as recently as last November –– when Republicans stormed the House and took control of many state governments –– Obama seemed vulnerable. It's doubtful, however, that many Republican insiders shared that view; regardless, they certainly don't see it that way right now.

Many believe that Romney's biggest problem is the "RomneyCare" health program he established in Massachusetts while governor. The current governor, Obama's pal, Deval Patrick, recently damned Romney praising him for creating the model conservatives derisively term "ObamaCare."

Fortunately for Romney, the health issue may not be as potent in 2012 as it is today. Already, it's being overshadowed unemployment, the Mideast, and union busting. Health care, like the deficit, raises passion but it won't raise enough votes.

Besides Romney, who are the other viable Republicans, and what are they waiting for? At this time four years ago, there were already more than a dozen announced contenders, including Obama, Hillary Clinton and, yes, Mitt Romney.

This time around, many presumed candidates are holding back –– either because they know how difficult Obama will be to beat, or because they know that they don't have the stuff to even make it close. Sarah Palin comes to mind. It's remarkable, actually, that her name keeps appearing on lists of possible candidates, when her real chances of becoming president are very close to zero. The trove of private e-mails that surfaced recently, revealing her contempt for media, rival politicians, and even her own constituents in Alaska, really finished her off.

Newt Gingrich, who is reportedly scouting for a campaign headquarters in Atlanta so as to distance himself from the Washington merry-go-round, is about to declare. But if elected, Gingrich would pass age 70 in his first year in office, and many Republicans are uncomfortable betting on demographics similar to Obama v. McCain.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on the short list, but his recent declarations that the Tea Party is "a driving force for change," and "The government's too damn big," reflect the very type of politics that stirs interest on some stumps but dashes hopes on the national tote board.

Another former governor, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, might enter the primaries, but he has never been able to move the needle. Between his books, his Fox talk show and his time as governor, there's enough flip-flopping in Huckabee's past that he could manage to lose a debate against himself.

Then who? Texas Rep. Ron Paul? Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann? Billionaire Donald Trump? These are all conservative cartoon characters, and whether or not they run in any primaries none will ever be president.

Some of the GOP's truly capable candidates, most notably New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have already removed themselves from contention –– realizing that 2016 may be a better time to run. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota are others leading the charge to the exit.

Only unemployment, more so than any Republican contender now on the list, could defeat Barack Obama in 2012. But it says here that won't happen.

It also says here that most politically savvy Republicans already know that.

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker, and also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." He may be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. This column is distributed exclusively Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.