The 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination is (almost historically) wide open, as would-be candidates flirt with running without actually declaring their intentions. The uncertainty is "helping to clear the path" for a single candidate: Tim Pawlenty, says Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. The former Minnesota governor is the rare hopeful who can appeal to both the Republican elite and the GOP's grassroots base. And Pawlenty lacks the baggage of, say, Mitt Romney, who is "fatally wounded" by his support for universal health care in Massachusetts; Jon Huntsman, an "ideological traitor" who actually served in the Obama administration; or Mitch Daniels, who has riled social conservatives with mild suggestions of compromise. Pawlenty may just be the last conservative standing, says Chait. Here, an excerpt:

In the end, Pawlenty’s calling card is an ability to appeal to white working-class voters. Pawlenty calls himself a "Sam’s Club Republican." The phrase has also been used by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam in urging the party to adopt a more working-class friendly platform. But the coincidence between the two uses of the phrase ends there. Pawlenty does not dissent in any way from the party’s plutocratic platformhis notion of working class appeal lies purely in the realm of personal style. This, too, places Pawlenty squarely in the George W. Bush mold of nominee, a reasonably (though not wildly) talented pol who uses charisma to demonstrate working-class authenticity while reliably toeing the party line.

I’m not going to proclaim Pawlenty a lock or even an outright favorite. But I do see him as the leading contender, and his intrade value (currently showing a 13.5 percent chance of winning) should probably be two to three times higher. In a wide-open field, Pawlenty is where I’d place my bet.

Read the entire article at The New Republic.