Saturday, June 18, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

There now can be little doubt that the lengthy 2012 Presidential race is underway. Events are unfolding rapidly among the Republicans that wish to represent their party in next year's general election, and each week, until a nominee emerges victorious should be chock full of news and developments. Only in those spring and early summer months of next year, might things slow down a bit. I need to be mindful in writing these weekly posts for my blow (which are also "syndicated" on Political Dog 101), that it would be impossible to cover every detail of the week in politics.

Of course, this was also the week when the saga of Weinergate reached it's climax with the disgraced New York Congressman, who had been rendered impotent by his own party's leaders, pulled out of his position in Congress. Fans of off color puns though should not feel all his lost. His district will still get to hold a "special erection" to replace him. I will make my prediction on that contest, in the near future.

At this time last week, I previewed this past Monday's CNN GOP Debate in New Hampshire. I said that Mitt Romney, as the perceived front-runner, should expect to be attacked from all angles by his fellow GOP hopefuls. Somewhat to my surprise, that never really happened, and Romney emerged from the debate virtually unscathed, and with generally strong reviews for his overall debate performance. In the debate, Romney did not have to spend as much time on the defensive as expected, and instead was able to hammer away at the record of Barack Obama.

General comments that the former Massachusetts Governor made about continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, which might seem to generate some opposition from more hawkish Republicans did not really get that much attention, as compared to the "horse race" aspect of Romney having a pretty good night, and cementing his status as his party's front-runner. He also received a lot of favorable press for a web-ad in which his campaign dramatically presented testimony from America's unemployed who took issue with Obama's recent use of the term "bump in the road."

People in a party's front-runner position never seem to stay there entirely uninterrupted in Presidential politics, so Romney fans, such as myself, should definitely expect to see some more political ups and downs over the next several months, while keeping his currently very favorable national and state polling numbers in perspective.

Seven candidates in total took part in the debate, but besides Romney, most of the talk has centered on two Minnesotans, who are seeking to do what such 10,000 Lakes folks like Humphrey, McCarthy, Mondale, and Stassen have failed before. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, the first ever woman to take part in a GOP Presidential debate, and who used the occasion to announce her candidacy, had a much better night, than former Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was considered one of the top tier Republican candidates.

On Sunday, Pawlenty went on television and attacked Romney on the health care issue, labeling the plan signed in Massachusetts several years ago as "Obamneycare." On Monday afternoon though, Pawlenty curiously said in an interview that he probably would not repeat the line on stage, and sure enough, when pressed by moderator John King, and with Romney standing near him, Pawlenty appeared to nervously attempt to glide past what he had said. Perhaps, "T-Paw" suddenly had second thoughts when the man who might one day have the power to put him on a national ticket, was there in his presence. Later in the week, Pawlenty admitted he messed up during the debate and once again took a more aggressive, (though almost half-hearted) stance against Romney on health care. All things considered, it was a pretty bad week for the still hoping to gain traction Pawlenty campaign. There is a long way to go, but that candidate should be doing a lot better now, and may face an additional slide that could at least temporarily place him in Newt Gingrich, "non factor" territory.

As for Bachmann, the conservative House Member, who at times has said some controversial and historically inaccurate things, came off looking pretty good. She was mostly on her game in the debate and effectively stayed on message on the issues, while also focusing on her biography as the mother of five, who had also taken an impressive 23 foster children into her home. While much of the praise of Bachmann may have to do with her surpassing expectations (both for herself and for how they perceived how Sarah Palin may have done) many pundits immediately have placed her into the upper tier of GOP candidates, and someone who could conceivable derail Romney down the road. It was clearly a very good week for Bachmann. I still do not think she is likely to be on the GOP ticket next year, but her chances of a Vice Presidential selection post debate, are at least a little bit better.

Currently, with Palin and Rudy Giuliani still on the sidelines, and with no news on them seeming to be imminent, Romney, as mentioned, appears to have a solid lead on the rest of the field both nationally and in key states, especially New Hampshire. Increased exposure for Bachmann clearly has her gaining support though, which can also be said for Herman Cain, who along with Bachmann, appear to have leapfrogged over Pawlenty and Gingrich into double digit territory. The fans of Bachmann and Cain, a woman and an African-American (which in some ways mirrors the 2008 Democrat contest) tend to be the most conservative of Republican primary voters, which is a very interesting story in and of itself. At present, they both appear to be ahead former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. in support. Huntsman is seen as a moderate Republican and appears to be a favorite of the mainstream media, who have claimed he will be a major contender for the Republican nomination when all is said and done. He will formally announce his candidacy this upcoming week, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New Jersey.

A nasty cold prevented Huntsman from attending this weekend's Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Romney and Pawlenty also did not attend. The main political story from the conference, which previously had been exclusively for southern Republicans, was a Presidential Straw Poll. The announcement of the results today showed that Texas Congressman Ron Paul, was the winner by a wide margin. Paul, while completely out of the running for actually winning the nomination, does certainly maintain his army of passionate supporters, and he tends to win straw polls. I think he will probably win a few more before all is said and done. Perhaps surprisingly, Huntsman finished second, while Bachmann and Cain, who did attend, were third and fourth, with Romney a distant fifth.

One person's name who was not on the straw poll ballot, but who did speak to the conference to great enthusiasm was Texas Governor Rick Perry, who many are becoming more convinced is likely to eventually enter the fray. If Perry runs, I believe he will be a very hot political story at once and will have great appeal to many in the party. A case can certainly be made for how he could theoretically be the person to surpass Romney next winter. However, the way the field currently stands, Perry will have to raise a lot of money, build a significant organization, and win over many voters just to have the chance to do so. Presently, Cain and Bachmann have a head-start on the right and do not appear to be willing to be elbowed aside. Bachmann's debate performance certainly only adds credibility to her presence in the campaign.

While I believe Perry is the kind of politician who can appeal, at least initially to both Evangelicals and Tea Party types, he may just wind up dividing a segment of the vote down the road, which only makes things easier for Mitt Romney. Red State Republicans may really take to Perry, but others in the party, who are not as active politically, may have not find his as appealing or reach the conclusion that Romney would be a stronger general election candidate against Obama. Republicans do seem to be willing to place a high value on electability this time around.

Four years ago, Obama's eventual nomination victory over Hillary was built on the back of "red states" that no Democrat nominee would win in the fall and this time, someone like Perry, if he emerges as Romney's main competition in a theoretically drawn out battle, could struggle by comparison in the "blue states" where a lot of Republican delegates are to be won or lost. Romney's money and organization in all 57 contests might be what it takes to "win ugly." If Perry runs, there will also be some talk about the fact that the nation's longest serving Governor won his 2010 home state Republican primary for renomination with just a little bit more than half the vote. He appears to be a divisive figure of sorts, even among his fellow Lone Star Republicans, and that might not necessarily be a sign of overall political promise.

With today's Paul straw poll victory, somewhat marginalizing the entire event, the media may focus on something else that happened today in New Orleans. An Obama impersonator spoke to the crowd, and made some jokes in questionable taste, before a party official interrupted the act midway and told him to leave the podium.

The real President today was playing golf in a highly anticipated foursome, along with his Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker John Boehner, and his fellow Ohio Republican, Governor John Kasich. I have yet to hear how the politicos did on the links (though my completely golfing ambivalent sense is to bet on a Boehner win), but I have been watching tracking poll numbers over the week, as well as those matching Obama against a generic Republican, and unlike golf, the lower numbers being posted for the Democrat incumbent are not a good sign. Economic worry is once again taking a toll on Obama's approval numbers, which are now below where they were, before the killing of Osama bin Laden.

A fake Barack Obama was pulled off stage today by a Republican before he believed his act would be over. In less than seventeen months, life may imitate art.