Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What’s next for Bob Riley: A 2012 run at the White House?

image Published today in the Mobile Press-Register, a story from George Talbot discussing the buzz about outgoing Alabama Governor Bob Riley’s plans for the future. Five words that accurately describe the former rancher, Alabama business school graduate, US Congressman, and two-term Governor: Folksy.  Intelligent. Capable manager. Staunch conservative. Political opportunist.

There’s one more that friends and political observers like to toss around: Reaganesque.  This one fits primarily because Riley’s political interests were sparked by the charismatic President who served from 1981 through 1988. Riley was first elected to Congress in the 1996 election, served a self-imposed three-term limit and left in 2003.

His 2002 election as Governor was by a 3,000 vote margin, the closest in the history of the state.

Riley’s reputation as a capable manager is impeccable. His handling of the Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina disasters was praised by local and federal emergency management officials, and his management of the Gulf Oil Spill crisis of 2010 was similarly lauded. To this day, Riley remains a fierce antagonist of current Oil Spill Claims Czar Kenneth Feinberg and his handling of compensation payments to affected residents and business owners.

At 66, Riley says he’s still got some “racing” in him:

A national run for Riley, 66, would in some ways be easy. His children are grown and his schedule is open. Experts are predicting the Republican primary could swell to include a dozen or more candidates. In such a large field, the race essentially becomes a beauty contest.

Early voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina would quickly narrow the contest to three or four candidates. Make the cut, and you could be on the fast track to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

For now, however, the road leads home to Ashland.

“I’m tired. I’m ready for a break,” Riley said between meetings in New York. “Patsy told me I need to do something, or else I’ll get bored. And I told her I’d like to try doing nothing awhile and just see.”

He is tinkering with the idea of a cross-country motorcycle trip -- perhaps to Alaska -- in springtime. The long ride would allow him to clear his mind and make a decision about his future. But for now there’s still work to be done.

“I had an old track coach who taught me to run through the tape, not to it,” he said. “I’ve still got a little race left to run.”

Wait. What? A road trip to Alaska?  What could he possibly hope to achieve by visiting Alaska?

Should Riley decide to enter the race, he’ll almost certainly be up against a formidable opponent in the form of neighboring Southern Governor, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, whose potential 2012 run was analyzed here, back in June 2010. Or perhaps Barbour would be content to team up with Riley and use his considerable political network to give the Reaganesque Riley a leg up in the 2012 beauty contest.