Saturday, November 05, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

Tomorrow, November 6th, will put the countdown at one year for the 2012 Presidential election. Today though, I voted in a statewide straw poll, open to all Illinois voters. Based on late breaking reports, 3,649 people took part, making it one of the largest straw polls thus far. The proceeds went to benefit the Illinois Republican Party and participants were able to vote online and in person today at several locations throughout the state.

Based on the online results, in what has to not be too great of a surprise, Ron Paul won yet another straw poll. Apparently, his libertarian minded supporters are fine with the fact that the $5 they spent to vote went to the bank account of an establishment Republican organization. Among those who voted today in person, the winner was Mitt Romney, and I was proud to be among that group. Herman Cain finished second among both online and in person votes.

It was an interesting week in politics, that I will just cover briefly. The developments were likely a lot more interesting than a "debate" that was held tonight in Texas between contenders Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. After having been written off for dead months ago, the problems of some other candidates have left Gingrich in a now stronger position, where he appears to be running third nationally and perhaps even better in some states. I still do not think Gingrich has the money or organization though to actually get the votes that match his level of name recognition or even at the level he is currently polling.

Instead, the race to be the last candidate standing to face frontrunner Mitt Romney continues to be among Cain and Rick Perry. Both candidates had pretty noteworthy weeks, though Cain's problems were by the biggest story of the week, and in fact was something that received more press attention than any candidate "scandal" in recent memory.

First though was the aftermath of a speech Perry gave last Friday night in New Hampshire, while many Americans were engulfed in Game 7 of the World Series. The Texas Governor was unusually animated, and at times even a bit effeminate and came across in a way that raised a lot of eyebrows. After clips of the speech mysteriously showed up on YouTube this past week, speculation was rife with rumors that Perry was drunk, had a reaction to painkillers, or something else along those lines. Whatever the truth is (and I find it hard to believe after having seen it that the man was totally sober), there were some devastating moments that could be used against Perry in political ads and certainly gives credence to my long-standing theory that he would be a disaster as a national candidate.

However, the Perry speech incident, and his campaign's original stance of outright denying that he was in any way under the influence, was surpassed by the revelation in The Politico, that Cain had been accused by two women of sexual harassment in the 1990s, when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association.

While they apparently had ten days notice of such a story being worked on, the Cain campaign reacted to the story being posted as if they were caught completely off-guard and almost a textbook example of not to react to a scandal. While I have always felt that Cain is not truly a legitimate contender for the GOP nomination, the nature of the allegations and of the campaign reaction have to be troubling. Still though, I think it is fair to point out that the story by The Politico appeared to be rushed and thinly sourced. Thus many conservatives, including those who might not necessarily support Cain, have rushed to his defense, and apparently helped him raise a lot of money this past week in an anti-liberal media backlash. The entire concept of a black conservative male being painted as a sexual deviant is also quite combustible.

Nobody can really say for certainty what the truth is to these allegations, which now have included a third woman, but a short-termed rallying around effect aside, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh vigorously defending Cain, I believe will not continue forever and this will eventually take it's toll.

After first saying he knew nothing about the allegations, Herman Cain said on the very same day that he was indeed falsely accused of sexual harassment back in the '90s. He denied anything tawdry and said that he merely made a comment about a co-worker's height that she must have found offensive. The details of these allegations are continuing to remain secret under a non-disclosure arrangement that the trade group worked out at the time, in which the women were paid hefty amounts of money to leave their jobs and remain silent. As the week progressed, there have been whispers that Cain's behavior towards women were far more serious that he has let on and that the true nature of the allegations would cripple his candidacy. An Iowa radio host has even said that Cain made inappropriate comments towards females on the station's staff.

Whether Cain is a sleazy cad or just a bit of an old-school compliment giver of the ladies may be up in the air, but this genuinely turned into a media feeding frenzy this week, complete with the candidate losing his temper with the media as cameras rolled. I feel the most bad for Gloria Cain, the candidate's long-time wife, who has been basically invisible from the campaign trail. Perhaps none of this will really matter next year, after Cain begins his new career on radio, on television, or on the book tour circuit.

More explosive than the allegations itself was the issue of the "blame game." Who was the source for the story? Was it just genuine investigative journalism? Did the White House or Democrats play a role? Another GOP campaign? Who had the most motivation to try to "take down" the surging in the polls candidacy of Herman Cain?

Well, the campaign has apparently put all the blame on that of rival Rick Perry and his organization. Recently, Perry had hired some new operatives who have been said to be quite willing to get down and dirty in the game of politics. Cain campaign chief Mark Block, who is now basically a household name in political circles, with or without his cigarette, went on Fox News and demanded that Perry apologize to Cain, his family, and America. Their theory was that a recently hired pollster on the Perry campaign, had worked for Cain in his unsuccessful 2004 Senate race, and that Cain had revealed the fact that he had been accused of wrongdoing.

The Perry operative flatly demanded that he had anything to do with the story and Block later backed off a direct finger pointing but still said they believed the Perry people were responsible. A Perry spokesman has denied all involvement, but tried to deflect suspicion towards the campaign of Mitt Romney. While officials with the National Restaurant Association may be Romney contributors, it is hard to see why Romney would want to hurt Cain in a way right now that would benefit the better resourced and funded Perry (unless they were counting on Cain surging from the sympathy factor.....)

All this talk of scandal has continued to deflect upon some of Cain's other weaknesses as a candidate. While I believe he is an intelligent and well-intentioned man, he is strongly unprepared for the Presidency. His attempts to answer tough policy questions in interviews, especially while spending much of this past week in the Beltway, is almost painful at times. The latest brouhaha involves a statement Cain made in which it appeared that he did not realize that China already had nuclear weapons.

So, with Perry and Cain having some serious long-term problems, and with Newt Gingrich, not really being in a strong position to capitalize too much, I am still thinking that Mitt Romney is on the way to a fairly easy path to the GOP nomination after the voting begins in just two short months. It has to be pointed out that he has yet to spend a single penny on any radio or television ads this cycle.

It is true that many conservatives have problems with Romney, and point to previous moderate to liberal positions he held on some issues as a candidate and officeholder in Massachusetts and the overall meme, unfair or not, that he is a "flip-flopper" without core convictions. Others will say that Romney's biography and demeanor make him a perfect caricature of the "greedy Wall Street type" which so many are protesting these days.

I could go on for paragraphs trying to dispute these charges, but I am sure they will all be focused on in the weeks and months ahead. Romney, like all politicians, has his weak spots, he remains easily the best choice for my party, financially, organizationally, politically, ideologically, and substantively to go up against Barack Obama, defeat him, and make America even greater as President.

I can hardly wait to see how this next year develops.