From the ’12 shelves

Game on ... finally. The Republican presidential primary, still lacking a favorite, is nevertheless officially in gear. Trump is out, no surprise, but with him gone the GOP has caught a big break. Mike Huckabee took a pass, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is finally a candidate, and former Gov. Jon Hunstman of Utah is making it more than clear he is getting in as well. The waiting game continues with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, but perhaps he can still afford to wait. The following are key recent developments:

Huckabee — The former Arkanas governor chose his television salary and the freedom to build a pricey house in Florida, no questions asked, over the pressures of a presidential campaign. But does this mean he will continue to be a presence in the race by talking it over on his show on the Fox News Channel? If so, that's not likely good news for Mitt Romney, whom Huckabee has openly criticized.

Romney — His speech on the healthcare law he signed in 2006 as Massachusetts governor didn't seem to do him much good, and some questioned whether it made things worse. Romney laid out a plan for a free-market healthcare plan and clearly stated his intention to repeal President Obama's healthcare law if elected president. But he didn't apologize for the Massachusetts plan critics on the left and right claim is indistinguishable from the Obama plan, saying to do so would be dishonest. Grassroots Republicans hate the individual mandate to buy health insurance, and since Romney didn't renounce it, he won't have likely changed any Tea Party minds. It should be noted that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (who endorsed Romney in 2008) said on "This Week" of his speech that while he showed courage in dealing with healthcare reform, "I think we are looking for a leader that's willing to, one, make courageous stands, take strong policy decisions, but two, also admit when a mistake was made."

Daniels — OK, Cheri Daniels made her big speech. We now know Bush-world is begging Daniels to get in. Still no hint, and no sign of that "fire in the belly" that is traditionally required.

Huntsman — Since officially stepping down as Obama's ambassador to China on April 30, Huntsman has gotten right to work to raise money for a race as well as reaching out to key players in the early states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Though other contenders in the primary race might be assuming that the moderate Huntsman disqualified himself by serving in the Obama administration, some Republicans in Congress recently told The Hill they thought his service as ambassador would be an asset. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said, "I consider it a compliment for anybody to be selected to be ambassador to China ... I think that enhances his credentials — he was sent to represent the people of the United States."

Santorum — Tweeted the following after Huckabee announced he wouldn't run: "So impressed w@mikehuckabee by putting role of prayerfully following God's will as the most important factor, because it is." Santorum is running hard as a social conservative and, along with Michele Bachmann, benefits the most in the short run from Huckabee's absence from the race. Since Santorum believes God's will is the most important factor, he clearly believes his own run is God's will.

Gingrich — Kudos to Newt for conceding on "Meet The Press" Sunday that he has made many mistakes and that "people have every right to ask the tough questions." But those three marriages and his adultery might no longer be the headline of Gingrich's candidacy after what he said about Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) ambitous and controversial reform plans for Medicare. After telling a Time magazine reporter just weeks ago that he would have voted for the Ryan plan even though it was "just a first step," on Sunday he called the proposal "right-wing social engineering," which he said was no better than "left-wing social engineering." By strongly criticizing the Ryan plan, though it makes other GOP presidential contenders nervous as well, Gingrich has made himself the un-Ryan in the race. While the others can still straddle the line on the need to tackle Medicare reforms, Gingrich will now be under pressure to clarify his own plans, which, if detailed, will invite their own attacks. Ryan is also one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party right now, and bashing his plan in those stark terms was probably one of those "things that are wrong" in the pile of mistakes Gingrich has made. In reference to Gingrich's remarks on his "right-wing social engineering," Ryan said Monday that "with allies like that, who needs the left?" Ouch.


WILL OBAMA'S DRILLING PROPOSALS DO ANYTHING TO GAS PRICES? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, May 18. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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