Should be noted that when he ran for governor in 2006, he finished third - and not an especially close third - in the Republican primary. But that was then. Neither the two contenders who topped him (Kevin Mannix and Ron Saxton) almost certainly are out of the picture for 2010. The dynamic then favored a Republican nominee who would run as the centrist guy (that was supposed to be Saxton), while Atkinson is solidly conservative. But the internal party dynamic may be different next time, especially after the Saxton loss. Atkinson would start this effort with the revival of his old organization, building from there - a better start than most other Republicans not named Smith or Walden would have.
Besides which, there was this: Atkinson displayed excellent campaign skills in 2006, better maybe than his opponents. He delivered a knack for communicating with a centrist tone while not abandoning his essential take on things. He could be a very strong candidate for 2010.