I have bagged on Mitt Romney with the best of them, but I want to note for the record — in March of 2009 — that he looks quite promising for 2012. It isn't the fact that he won the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll, but what he said there and the highly favorable view of him among Republicans on Capitol Hill that make me think he is the best positioned to bring influential supporters on board next year, when all contenders will need to get their ducks in a row.

A key reason to take Romney seriously — not that he could knock off Barack Obama — among the other potential candidates is that they are just not that strong. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) is a man of many ideas who has trouble governing; Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin of Alaska are young and don't appear ready for primetime, let alone an incumbent Obama. They would be better off maturing and taking on some other Democrat in the future.

Mike Huckabee? Need I say more? Then there's Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi — he's appealing in many ways, but it would be hard to imagine the party rallying behind him. I think Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota is the most promising, but he hasn't run before like Romney, and I could see Romney mowing him down.

At CPAC, Romney didn't engage in Limbaugh-like lambasting of the new Obama administration. He said, "We want our country to succeed, no matter who's in power," and urged Republicans to be out front first with GOP healthcare reform and energy reform plans.

"We must be the alternative course. We can’t be that if all we say is no. Our plans must be clear, compelling and first to the table," said Romney. "Our plans must have at least one common thread — they must make America stronger. Better education strengthens our kids; better healthcare strengthens our citizens; and bringing our budget into balance strengthens our economy and preserves our future.”

In his terrific column today in The Boston Globe, Peter Cannellos writes that "Romney suddenly seems like the only adult left standing among the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls." Cannellos argues that not only will Romney's ability to discuss economic issues in depth help him, but that his early opposition to the auto bailout may turn out to have been ahead of the curve.

So unless the Republican Party wants to suddenly change its policy on nominating the runner-up, it's looking good for Romney.


CAN STIMULUS #2 MAKE IT THROUGH CONGRESS? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, March 17. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.