The Next GOP Contender for 2012?

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WASHINGTON - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is still making waves in the Republican Party.

Many in the grassroots would love to see her as their presidential candidate in 2012.

Palin's so popular she was asked to headline a major Republican fundraising event Monday night in Washington, D.C.

But she demurred and was quickly replaced by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- a man some see as her number one potential rival for leading the assault on the White House in 2012.

Palin is incredibly popular with the Republican rank-and-file, but is seen as too much of a loose cannon by the GOP establishment.

"They see Sarah and they can't corral her and control her," Bay Buchanan, a Republican strategist, said about that establishment. "She could say anything, and this unnerves them."

Since the GOP was swept out of power last year, many feel it'd be a big mistake for the party to alienate Palin since she's possibly the only Republican who can excite the public and the party. 

"She plays a very exciting game, whereas the rest is somewhat boring," Buchanan said. "And so I think she's an enormous asset to our party."

As for whether the rumored rivalry between Palin and Gingrich is true, well, at least at Tuesday night's fundraiser, Gingrich was most gracious to both former GOP presidential candidate John McCain and McCain's former running mate.

"As I looked at John and Sarah together, I felt how this country would be better if they were in the White House," Gringrich said from the podium.

What may be more interesting than any feud between the two is the fact that at this point two ultra-conservatives seem to be the leading contenders for the top spot on the GOP's presidential ticket.

They're certainly the hottest commodities in the party right now

Gingrich is constantly appearing on leading national talk shows and news programs, representing the GOP.  He's acknowledged by congressional Republican leaders as the top idea man for the party.

Support for McCain was lukewarm last year until he picked Palin as his running mate. She soared in popularity throughout the campaign with her flinty conservatism, quickly becoming the number one choice among the rank-and-file to represent them in 2012.

Moderates in the party are joining together to blunt the soaring fortunes of these conservatives.  For instance, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, both considered more moderate than Palin and Gingrich, have joined a group they say is meant to revive the GOP. 

But it's also a likely rallying place for those who think moderate Republicans have a better chance of winning back the White House.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.