After a far too long hiatus (busy teaching my classes this fall) it is time for an update on the Republican primary.
When we last looked at the race, Rick Perry had just jumped in and Herman Cain's candidacy was seen as not meriting much media time. How things have changed...and stayed the same!
First Governor Perry: He has consistently failed to impress many in the Republican electorate who initially had high hopes for his candidacy. After all, he is a long serving governor of a state which seems to have suffered less during the recession and is a true conservative (oh, except for immigration).
Perry's 52 second "oops moment" of a couple of nights ago apart from providing great fodder for late night comics may well be a political death knell. His stock was already falling based upon poor debate performance and a number of misstatements. The style and demeanor of Perry, while positive for Tea Party activists leaves a lot of voters in the cold. When I saw him speak in NH back in August, I simply was not impressed with him and nothing has occurred to change my perceptions. We all have "oops moments" (my students can attest to that!) but having one on a national stage like this does raise legitimate questions about his preparedness and thus his electability.
What Perry does have going for him is a significant amount of money banked and he is launching a widespread TV/radio ad campaign in early caucus and primary states. Although I see his chances for the nomination as poor, he can still recover if the electorate coalesces around him as the "anti-Mitt" and forgives his sins on immigration and his err, "speaking skills". However, most voters will likely see him as a regional and weak general election candidate who may win traditional Republican groups against President Obama, but won't turn on suburban independents in the Midwest.
Herman Cain has been a shooting star. His folksy style and simple 9-9-9 (say that five times fast) plan has attracted a lot of support and many conservatives in the party have unwaveringly defended his lapses on foreign policy and the recent sexual harassment allegations. Cain seems to be surviving this tempest so far (polling is still strong) but the momentum has stalled.
As a candidate, Cain is very likable, contrasts sharply with frontrunner Romney, and is a down-the-line conservative who is attractive to Tea Party folks. However, questions regarding of his lack of depth on foreign policy and his very poor handling of the harassment allegations (regardless of if the charges have merit) has placed a tremendous weight on his campaign. I see him staying in the race as his core supporters don't seemed particularly troubled and the new strategy of attacking the media energies his fans as many don't trust the dreaded main-stream media anyway. Will he leave the race over these allegations? As Herman says "Ain't gonna happen!"
Newt Gingrich has truly surprised me. As Speaker of the House he resigned under a cloud of uncertainly in 1998 and his political career seemed finished. He has since been writing and traveling in conservative circles and announced a very long-shot campaign about a year ago. Much of his campaign staff quit last spring (many joined with Perry), but in the past two weeks buoyed by solid debate performances and with the withering of Perry and Cain, Newt may be the anti-Mitt flavor of the month... Or perhaps much longer as there are few other candidates left who have the ability and money to run a nationwide campaign. Gingrich is probably the smartest man on the stage and has been described as having many ideas, but some of them can be "really out there."
On the negative side of the ledger, Gingrich has had many past issues with his family life that social conservatives may have issues with. Additionally, he has been criticized for taking money as a lobbyist over the past few years and opposition research will have a ball with his record. I do not see him as an electable nominee next year, but he may well emerge as Romney's most serious rival as party activists like most of what he says. We shall see if this contiunes in the next few weeks.
This leaves Mitt Romney who continues to chug along. He can't seem to break 25% in national polls, but maintains a wide lead in New Hampshire. National polls do not mean a lot at this stage in the race; remember this nomination will be won state by state.
Mitt's problem is that a lot of Republicans, especially conservatives continue to look for some alternative. After all, he did sign the health reform law in Massachusetts as governor. And yes, much of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) is based off of this law - see the individual mandate for starters. Additionally, he has a history of "evolving" on issues which is heresy for many conservatives. He is the establishment candidate in a very anti-establishment year. Rush Limbaugh seems to truly despise him and that is a problem for him in the primaries, although this could be an asset in November. Being tied to the Tea Party is probably a negative in the general election.
What Romney has going for him are continued solid debate performances, a lot of money on hand, organization, and he appears the most "presidential" of the candidates on the stage. He is never going to excite conservatives which may be detrimental as intensity matters in ginning up the turnout next November, but at this point I believe is still the likely nominee. Romney continues to benefit as Perry, Cain, Bachman, and Newt are all scrambling for the same voters.
The anti-Mitt, anti-establishment sentiment has yet to coalesce around any one candidate and as long as no plausible alternative candidate can capture these party activists, Romney's appeal to Independents who can vote in the NH Primary should be enough to give him an early lead one the voting begins. He needs to be concerned with South Carolina and other Southern states that may give a boost to Cain or Perry. I anticipate him trying to win big victories in the more "moderate" primary states and hoping that the Tea Party vote continues to split in states where he would fare poorly in a one on one contest.
The Iowa Caucuses are scheduled for January 3. The NH Primary is January 10. We are now in the end run of the invisible primary which began in November 2008.
By the way, only 361 Days until Election 2012...Onwards!!