Saturday, October 29, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

Later this evening, the Des Moines Register will release poll results for January's Republican Precinct Caucuses. Based upon the historical accuracy of the newspaper's polls and the ultra-important status placed on the Hawkeye State as the first contest in the nation, the numbers are highly anticipated as a snapshot of where the race there now stands. What happens in Iowa, right after New Year's Day 2012, will have a tremendous influence on the early contests that follow and will show if any candidate is able to capitalize on a strong showing or if the nomination contest will be a short one.

At one point, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was considered the front-runner in Iowa, and she won the important Ames Straw Poll. Since that point though, it has been nothing but down arrows for her campaign as she has been eclipsed first by Rick Perry, and now among Tea Party supporters by Herman Cain, who has moved ahead of both Bachmann and Perry. One Tea Party group is even calling for Bachmann to exit the race.

While many conservatives have moved back and forth between Bachmann, Perry, and Cain, particularly in regards to the "anti-Mitt Romney alternative" others like Rick Santorum remain stalled in neutral and Jon Huntsman is not even a factor for the Tea Party vote. The one candidate with a somewhat significant level of niche support that remains steady continues to be Ron Paul, who based on that fact can probably expect to finish between third and fifth in every contest he appears. Paul made some news which could potentially have an impact down the road by saying on a Fox News program that he would not rule out a third party or independent White House bid for the general election. Paul, who is retiring from Congress did not support the Republican candidate in the 2008 elections and this year may see the same thing, although perhaps he might be mindful of causing problems for his son, GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Mitt Romney continues to steadily inch along, raising money, gathering endorsements, and leading primary polls released this week by CNN in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. While the national GOP contest between Romney and Cain continues to be tight at the moment, the early states will have the far greatest impact on who is nominated. Additionally, Romney continues to poll by far, the strongest against Barack Obama, both nationally and in the states.

Cain appears to still have the edge over Perry and the others in regards to the alternative to the establishment front-runner, but as weak as the Texas Governor is as a candidate, he may eventually re-claim that spot by default. His campaign cash and operation is just far more significant than that of the upstart Cain.

Perry could have had a week in which the attention was squarely based on his newly revealed 20 percent "flat tax" proposal , but instead Perry stepped on his own media headlines by answering an interview question in a way that brought back the "birther" issue related to where Obama was born and if he is eligible to be President. By the end of the week, Perry said he had "no doubt" as to the incumbent's eligibility, but the fact that Perry seemed to coyly bring up the issue as something "fun" to poke Obama with and cited the doubts of Donald Trump caused Perry to mangle his economic message.

Also this week, the Perry campaign seemed to say that their candidate would wind up skipping many of the upcoming primary debates. Perry's debate performances have been widedly criticized but it is hard to see how he might eventually be considered seriously for the nomination if he content with dodging debates and admitting that they just are not his thing. By the end of the week again, Perry commented on the stories by saying that he had not yet made up his mind as to how often he would continue to debate, but held out hope that he might wind up being a "good debator" by the time they are all over.

In the meantime, Herman Cain continues to look like a contender despite a series of gaffes and a seeming pride in not having knowledge on all national issues. As a conservative, I think the appeal that many of my fellow folks on the right are finding with Cain is based on what they think is his "winning personality" and "convinctions" and not any sort of general sense that he is completely prepared to be President. I would say that such an attitude is both misguided, but also proof that conservatives are by and large not racist, despite what many on the left would want people to believe, and in fact, these right-wingers are willing to give every possible benefit of the doubt to a black candidate who thinks like they do. If Herman Cain were a white radio talk show host/businessman who had never won an election, I believe the appeal would be far less limited.

Cain , despite running for President, continues to give paid speeches and takes part in book signings. He has spent as much time lately in Alabama and Texas as in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign will say that he is embarked on a "50 state strategy", but instead I think it shows that the candidate knows he is not going to be President, but is embarked on a national branding campaign.

With his sudden political rise though, Cain has been the subject of increasingly negative media stories such as a piece that claims that staffers are advised to not speak to the candidate unless spoken to. The Cain campaign has also blamed some of his misstatements on being tired and said the candidate, who is a Stage Four cancer survivor might take things a bit slower on the campaign trail.

The most intriguing political story of the week though had to have involved a Cain campaign internet ad, which some proclaim as brilliant but most others say may have been the worst campaign ad ever produced.

In the ad, Mark Block, the Cain campaign's "Chief of Staff" is seen addressing the camera, speaking about the success of the campaign, complete with some vigorous head movements. As the ad ends, a campaign jingle of sorts begins to play, as Block looks in the camera and takes a drag off a cigarette. A serious looking Cain is then shown, who slowly breaks into a broad smile as the music plays out.

The ad, which has since gone viral, is likely to be discussed in Political Science and advertising courses in years to come. It may be quite amateurish, and symbolic of the minor league nature of the Cain candidacy, but it has at least gotten people talking.