In the red corner . . .

Sarah Palin
The self-styled Mama Grizzly and doyenne of the Tea Party movement has been a near-constant presence in US politics since John McCain chose her as his running mate in 2008. Palin resigned as governor of Alaska in 2009 to launch her career as a reality TV star, author and Fox News pundit, while still hinting at a serious run for president.

In her own words "Buck up or stay in the truck."

Tim Pawlenty
McCain overlooked the Minnesota governor in 2008, plumping instead for Palin. Despite this ignominy, Pawlenty has emerged as a credible and plural Republican candidate, having twice won gubernatorial elections as a conservative in a politically divided state.

In his own words "If voters want to know what I look like when I brush my teeth, then they ought to be able to see it."

Ron Paul
The anti-abortion and libertarian Texas congressman advocates a return to the gold standard and an isolationist foreign policy. Despite his cult following online, the former obstetrician failed to make an impression in the 2008 primaries - an achievement that he looks likely to repeat next year.

In his own words "Having delivered 4,000 babies, I assure you life begins at conception."

Newt Gingrich
In 1994, Gingrich was the chief architect of the "Republican Revolution", in which the party took over both House and Senate and brought the Clinton administration to a halt. Twice divorced and thrice married, Gingrich, a Catholic convert, may struggle to convince more conservative Republicans of his support for family values.

In his own words "I've had a life which, on occasion, has had problems."

Rick Santorum
The former senator of Pennsylvania is a staunch social and fiscal conservative. Santorum lacks name recognition - a problem made worse when campaigners "Google bombed" him after he compared homosexuality to bestiality, ensuring that the first result of a search for "Santorum" is a definition for an obscene sexual by-product.

In his own words "It's a free country. People can do and say what they want to say."

Mitt Romney
Despite being a God-fearing, successful businessman, Romney struggles to connect with core Republican voters. As governor of Massachusetts, he passed health-care legislation similar to the deeply unpopular "Obamacare" law, and his Mormon faith makes the evangelical base of the party uncomfortable.

In his own words "I did what I thought was right for the people of my state."

This article first appeared in the 23 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Obama 2.0