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If I Had Some Ham....

Lord knows I'm not averse to early coverage of the 2012 presidential cycle, but there's coverage based on reasonable speculation, and then there's speculation based on...well...insider fantasies and thin air.

Politico supplied a spectacular example of the latter today with an unintentionally hilarious piece entitled "John Thune looms over Tim Pawlenty's Iowa plan."

Now insofar as Sen. Thune has not taken a single real step towards running for president, and specifically has not been spending time in Iowa, it's a bit hard to suggest that he's "looming" over much of anything in that state. Yes, Beltway GOP Establishment types love him dearly, apparently because he is considered very pretty. But as the Politico article notes, a Des Moines Register survey earlier this year showed that 71% of self-identified Republicans in Iowa had no opinion of the guy whatsoever. Now "looming" is, I suppose, a relative term, but even Tim Pawlenty registered a bit more in the survey than Thune, since only 53% of self-identified Republicans in Iowa drew a blank on him, after his eight years as governor of neighboring Minnesota.

At this point, careful readers of the Politico piece might well wonder why its authors are paying so much attention to two guys who don't seem to be going anywhere without so much as a mention of Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich--you know, people Iowa Republicans do know something about, and who also have national followings. The planted axiom appears to be that Thune and Pawlenty have a big advantage over the field due to physical proximity to Iowa; indeed, the article goes to some length to document the rather obvious fact that it doesn't hurt to be within a short commute of Des Moines or the Quad Cities.

And yes, there have been cases of candidates who won the Iowa Caucuses in part because of friends-and-neighbors factor: notably Dick Gephardt in 1988 and Bob Dole in 1988 and 1996. But both these gents were very major national politicians when they campaigned in Iowa, and those who weren't, such as Paul Simon of Illinois in 1988, or Sam Brownback of Kansas in 2008, didn't get that far on proximity (not to mention Iowa's own Tom Vilsack in 2008, who dropped out after regularly finishing fourth in Iowa polls). Indeed, Iowans are acutely conscious of their role in national presidential politics, and will go a long way to show they are not provincial: that, far more than home-state proximity to Iowa, had a lot to do with Obama's 2008 Caucus win.

Now perhaps TimPaw should be worried about possible rivals like Thune on grounds that his very slim hopes depend on a relatively limited field heavily dominated by retreads, with no other "dark horse" prospects to divvy up the votes of those looking for something new. But I'd say John Thune is very far down the list of problems "looming" over the Minnesotan's campaign.

I mention (and mock) this piece because it exemplifies a type of horse-race coverage based not so much on facts and logic and precedent than on sorting through insider rumors and buzz and spin and implicitly telling Beltway genuises their own internal primary is the one that matters most: the primary in which Haley Barbour is a potential front-runner because he's good at shaking down donors and gives a good interview, even though his national voter appeal is dubious by any standard.

Both Thune and Tim Paw have a long way to go before they should be considered serious presidential candidates. Until then, their position is best described by the old saying: "If I had some ham, I could make a ham sandwich, if I had some bread."