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GOP Senators Wait for 2012 Field to Take Shape

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The lack of either a decision to run, or the announcement of an expected candidacy, on the part of the 2012 contenders has not dimmed the hope or enthusiasm of their supporters.

“I like John Thune a lot. He’s part of our Western Caucus; he knows the issues from my part of the country. He and I think a lot alike on issues; I talk to him frequently, I think he’d be a great president,” Barrasso said.

Barrasso, the Republican Conference vice chairman and No. 4 Senate Republican, serves in leadership with Thune, who as GOP Policy Committee chairman is the fifth-ranking Republican in the chamber.

Hatch said Huntsman’s potential entry into the race would not affect his support for Romney, a fellow Mormon who is also revered in Utah for his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Huntsman has submitted his resignation as ambassador to China to the Obama administration, and he told the White House he plans to leave the post by May.

“I’ve been a big supporter of Romney,” said Hatch, who is preparing for the possibility of a tough intraparty challenge of his own in 2012. Hatch referred to Huntsman as “a very good friend and a very good person,” but said: “I had already committed to Mitt Romney and I’m not going to change that commitment.”

Hatch confirmed that, if asked, he would lend a hand to Romney’s campaign.

Coats, who won back his old Senate seat last year after retiring in 1998, said he has talked to Daniels about the possibility of running for president.

“I’m hoping my man Mitch is our candidate. But I’m waiting to see what his decision is before I make any other decision,” Coats said, referring to the slogan Daniels used in his two successful gubernatorial campaigns. “We have talked on a number of occasions, but he clearly has not decided what he’s going to do.”

Meanwhile, Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos made clear that Florida’s junior Senator would not endorse.

Rubio is a tea party favorite who also has demonstrated broad appeal within the GOP and across party lines. He is mentioned as being in the vice presidential mix in 2012. But Rubio has pursued a low profile since being sworn in, choosing to focus on the Sunshine State over anything that involves national politics. That includes turning down an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week.

“In this race, he’s staying out of it completely,” Burgos said. “For the time being, politics is a distant second to the official business he has to work on.”

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