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Hesitation may be a virtue for potential GOP presidential contenders in the 2012 race. While Gingrich, Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Bachman, and the two Pauls have all been jockeying to NOT be the first to declare their candidacy for financial reasons, the new “Obama Got Osama” reality has made being an early front-runner a no-win predicament.

Who wants to be the first into the fray while Obama rides the wave of popularity bagging the al Qaeda leader is generating? No one. It’s going to be tough to score points ragging him on the economy when all he has to do is say “yeah, but I got Osama bin Laden” to own the conversation.

Maintaining momentum will be nearly impossible in the current political climate. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the GOP’s more momentum-challenged candidates just drop-out completely. Sarah Palin in particular is packing very little heat in the new post-bin Laden race. Other “soft” candidates like Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, and Ron Paul must also be re-thinking their 2012 chances. It’s now going to take more than criticism to score against Obama – it’s going to take an actual resume of accomplishments.

Oddly, the Republican with the best odds of making a stand against “the President who got bin Laden” is Newt Gingrich. He’s the only one of the bunch who has the old-school, dirty politics chops to wade in and undermine Obama’s now elevated position. Gingrich is the only one with the pure argumentative skills needed to overcome Obama’s new image as a decisive, white-hat-wearing terrorist killer.

Add to this how the post-bin Laden era enables Obama to extricate the U.S. from military entanglements like Afghanistan and Iraq, and puts him in a very good odor with our allies and gives him a very big stick to wield in foreign policy matters. Any but the most confident or at least arrogant GOP contender must be dreading campaigning against him.

It’s still not a done-deal for Obama, though. If the economy doesn’t show some really visible signs of recovery over the next year he will still be vulnerable to a well-planned attack on that front. And if he should stumble over some unforeseeable political disaster such as Democrats are prone to – say a juicy scandal inside the White House – he will see his bin Laden points melt away like ice on the hood of a Humvee in Baghdad. And never underestimate a Democrat’s ability to fail to capitalize on a gain, even a solid gold touchdown like getting Bad Guy Number One.

Killing Osama bin Laden may not have any real significant effect on the “war against terror”. Bin Laden was a symbolic rather than an operational leader. But the effect it will have on the American political scene cannot yet be fully calculated. My feeling is it just made things a lot tougher for anyone who isn’t Barack Obama.

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