This article has been updated.
WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) on Tuesday became the latest top party official to say that there will be surprise entries into the 2012 presidential race. The GOP leader declined to predict who those candidates might be, but he confirmed the widespread dissatisfaction with the current field.
“We don’t know who’s going to be in the race," said Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "I think it’s still pretty early. It’s 19 months until November.”
Priebus, the former chairman of the Wisconsin state GOP, later said that the Republican presidential field would be “pretty solidified” by the end of summer. But, he insisted, the current crop of candidates is not yet complete.
“Perhaps some others that we aren’t talking about might get in the race,” Priebus said. He suggested that new Republican presidential primary candidates could include more than just the hopefuls who are presumed to be running but have not yet formed an official campaign committee.
An RNC spokeswoman later told The Huffington Post that Priebus' intent was to say that the "pool is evolving," but that he did not intend to communicate discontent with the current crop of known candidates.
The RNC chairman -- who is friends with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the name and face of the GOP’s plan to address the nation’s long-term debt problem -- said he believed that because of the stakes of the 2012 election, some would feel “compelled” to become candidates for president.
“The very idea of America is at stake in this next election.”
But in the next breath Priebus added, “I don’t know who those people are. But I have a good sense that we’ll have plenty to choose from.”
Priebus did not correct a reporter who said Ryan –- who has been adamant that he will not run for president –- is not a candidate for higher office. When he was asked specifically for names of who else might run for president, Priebus offered none.
But he was placidly confident about the GOP’s ability offer a viable and competitive alternative to President Obama.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any lack of candidates,” he said.
Priebus defended House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s plan, saying he does not think it is “deeply unpopular.” As for polls showing large percentages of Americans are opposed to cutting or dramatically changing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Priebus argued that those results were based on slanted or incomplete polling.
“Depending on who’s asking the question and how it’s being asked, I think you could get a different answer,” he said. “When the American people are asked whether or not the issues of spending and debt and deficits are a threat to the American economy, I think the answer is overwhelmingly 'yes.'”
Ryan, he argued, “is the only one getting serious” about debt and entitlements.