It seems as likely as anything in politics can be that the Democratic candidate for president in 2012 will be President Obama, seeking re-election to a second term. But who will the Republicans put up to oppose him? It may seem a little early to be worrying about that, but you can bet that that is already the question on a lot of the nation's best political minds.
And already there are a number of names in the hat. For a party out of national power, governorships are the logical place to turn, and, happily, a number of them are available for consideration by the GOP.
One, certainly, is Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota. Elected in 2002 and now in his second term, he is 48 years old and previously served as majority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He probably deserves to be listed as a moderate among possible Republican presidential nominees.
Then there is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who, at 37, is also in his second term as the state's chief executive. He is somewhat more conservative than Pawlenty -- not surprisingly, in view of his Southern roots -- but not overwhelmingly so.
Another possible source of presidential candidates is, of course, the Congress, and the current one doesn't lack for possibilities. Still on the Republican side, one name often mentioned is that of Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, At 57 and serving his first term in the Senate after six years in the House, he is an outspoken conservative, rated at 100 by the American Conservative Union in 2006.
These names, of course, by no means exhaust the list of those mentioned for possible nomination by the Republicans in 2012. But it is probably fairer to stop naming names now rather than try to list everyone and risk omitting somebody who deserves to be included.
And never overlook the possibility that a major contender might emerge, not from Congress but from the ranks of business or the military, both of which have produced powerful candidates in past decades. Witness Wendell Willkie, who in 1940 moved from a career in business to the Republican presidential nomination and gave FDR a thoroughly credible battle for the White House.
In general, however, it is in the political ranks that we are likeliest to find plausible candidates for high political office. For one thing, they tend to have the kind of political experience that such office requires. A businessman may know many things of value, but he hasn't been schooled in the strikingly different arts of politics, and his performance in the latter field is almost bound to suffer as a result.
In any case, there is plenty of time for attractive possibilities to emerge. The off-year elections of 2010 are fewer than two years away, and any one of them could produce a brand-new governor, senator or even Congressman capable of making an important splash in 2012.
The nation's politicians and political observers are well aware of this and will keep a sharp eye on who emerges from the political cauldron in 2010.