Saturday, November 12, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

Amid Presidential politics developments, and off year elections in several states, in which both parties were able to claim victories that might carry positive implications, America was focused on a major news story out of Pennsylvania.

For decades, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was an extremely valuable figure for an endorsement in GOP Presidential primaries. This cyle though, his phone is likely to remain silent, as the octogenarian was forced from his post over the furor that developed involved the university and the football program not taking seriously enough knowledge involving horrible acts of child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The shocking and sordid details of the allegations have polarized the world of sports and have had much of America talking. Paterno's one sterling reputation has now taken a major hit as most are willing to say that he (and others) should have done far more years ago to prevent further actions by Sandusky, who now faces a trial and the rest of his life in prison.

While Barack Obama and some of the Republican Presidential candidates, including the Keystone State's own Rick Santorum, have been asked to comment on the matter, it did not manage to make itself a large part of the campaign narrative the past week. Instead, it maybe overshadowed, at least to a small extent, Presidential campaign news. Nonetheless, two major developments in the race managed to get their fair share of attention.

Early in the week, a Chicago area woman named Sharon Bielak came forward in New York City, alongside notorious publicity seeking attorney Gloria Allred to accuse Herman Cain of making unwanted sexual advances towards her in a car after a 1997 dinner meeting. While Allred has been known to be an open Democrat, Bielak has claimed to be an active Republican and Tea Party sympathizer who shares Cain's politics but believes he has been dishonest about the accusations of sexual harassment against him. Additionally, the name of one of Cain's National Restaurant Association accusers became public, and we learned that the woman is a longtime Washington D.C. press spokesperson for various governmental agencies.

For his part, Cain denied having any memory of the woman whatsoever and forcefully denied all allegations of misconduct during a press conference and in other media appearances. This is despite the fact that a Chicago conservative radio personality reports she personally witnessed Cain and Bielak having a conversation back in September at a Tea Party event. The eyewitness Amy Jacobson, who wishes she would have taken a picture, began by describing their encounter as seemingly "flirtatious" complete with hugging to later saying that Bielak appeared to be angrily telling something to Cain who remained silent.

Since she has come publicly forward, much has been made about Bielak's past professional, financial, and personal life in regards to her credibility and what her motivation for coming forward may be. Conservative voices have gone to great lengths to try to tie her, not to another GOP campaign, but to the Obama White House, as there has been talk of her somehow having ties to Obama political honcho David Axelrod in Chicago.

In regards to his "he said, she said", I really do not know what to believe. Cain has said he would be willing to take a lie detector test in order to prove all these allegations against him as being false, and I would like to see that. My hunch is that he probably has something to hide in regards to the fact that multiple women have accused him of at least unprofessional behavior. Maybe they are all lying, but the fact is that large sums of money were indeed paid out to two of them. As for Bielak, her story sounds reasonably credible, but just something about her is not adding up to me, and I have my doubts that she is being totally truthful.

Lie detector tests for all!

On Wednesday night, financial network CNBC hosted an economics themed debate in Michigan, which made headlines for another reason I will get into later, but in the debate, Cain likely appreciated the chance to change the subject back to his 9-9-9 plan and away from allegations of sexual harassment and in Bielak's case, what would basically be assault. The audience booed the debate journalists when they tried to engage Cain or another GOP candidate on the matter. Politically speaking, Cain is probably on solid ground, at least for now with many conservatives, painting himself as a member of a conspiracy and target of the liberal media. Republicans, even those who do not support Cain for President, tend to very much want these allegations to be false.

The most memorable part of the debate, and one that is sure to live in political lore, came from Rick Perry however. Criticized harshly for his past debate performances, Perry had a lot on the line going into the evening. He seemed to be doing relatively well, but then came a moment that I would consider easiest the most embarrassing moment in any national debate in American history. Perry turned to Ron Paul and said he would cut three federal agencies. After naming the first two as Education and Commerce, he was unable to think of the third one, which was the Energy Department, something he had talked about frequently on the campaign trail.

For over 50 seconds, Perry floundered and was unable to come up with the third part of his key plan. Simple stage fright, being unprepared, trying to secretly sabotage a campaign he never really wanted to enter, or just being flat out dumb, it really does not matter. Perry's struggling campaign may have came to a crashing end at that very moment. In his words,"oops."

While this was going on, the other candidates stood by on stage in a state of semi-shock. Some seemed to be trying to help him get his train of thought, while others were trying to plant a word to get him to say something even dumber (which he started to do in regards to the EPA.) Watching at home, my own mouth was open in surprise in a way that it may not have been since I watched Howard Dean scream like a banshee in Iowa.

Perry had no choice but to admit that he "stepped in it" during the debate and over the next couple of days made a large media tour, going on news shows, and doing the Top Ten List with David Letterman, trying to do damage control in regards to this gaffe. To some extent, I give Perry credit for not trying to make legitimate excuses as to why he froze, but it was still an extremely damaging moment politically. While Perry is now almost a sympathetic figure to some as a bumbler in over his head, that is not the kind of narrative that lends itself to a successful Presidential campaign.

Tonight, the candidates met in South Carolina on CBS for a poorly produced foreign policy debate. Very few people probably watched this Saturday night debate outside of hopeless political junkies and drunk SEC football fans who turned into CBS for what has been a usual time slot to see a game. Perry made some jokes about what happened earlier in the week, and was a bit more on his game this time, although the bar had been set pretty low. A few days ago, there was serious speculation that it was time for Perry to drop out and go back to Texas and continue with the job that he seems to care about. It remains to be seen if he can get the subject changed fast away from his horrible Presidential debate performances.

In both debates this week, Mitt Romney was as well-prepared and effective as usual. Still, the media and some in both parties continue to talk about "the anti-Romney alternative" and if that person can eventually take him out. While some have rallied around Cain after the allegations made against him, there is also some evidence that his favorables (and perceived electability) have taken a bit of a hit and I think that will continue. As mentioned, Rick Perry, despite his millions in campaign cash and professional campaign infrastructure may be a lost cause, so now the talk has centered on what could be a two man race between Romney and Newt Gingrich.

While it is true that the troubles of Perry and Cain may benefit Newt in the short-term, I maintain that it will be nothing but good news for Mitt long term. Gingrich has certainly benefited in the polls, as a result of his name recognition and debate performances, where he comes across as knowledgeable elder statesman who attacks Obama, but mostly speaks positively about his fellow candidates. The rest of the time he spends arguing with the moderators and attacking the media, which of course conservatives cannot get enough of.

Does Gingrich have the money or campaign structure to be a threat for the nomination? Absolutely not in my opinion. Gingrich is barely campaigning, outside of his debate appearances and I believe he is smart to know that he is not going to be nominated. His background which includes a turbulent political history and beyond messy private life have barely been touched in this campaign and a lot of Republican leaners may not be too familiar with it. Bottom line is that Gingrich's current poll numbers are completely over-inflated in comparison to the potential he has to get actual votes.

With Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann still believed to just be also-rans, some, especially in the media, keep predicting a surge for Jon Huntsman somewhere down the line. I do not see that happening. Conservatives just do not like what he is selling and his campaign has not been very effective in breaking through the pack, even in New Hampshire, where he is now betting everything.

So, I am left with the theory that Mitt Romney, my candidate, takes the nomination, and likely seals the deal before the calender hits February. I also have a hunch, as much as I hate to say it, that the candidate who will finish in second place in a lot of states, and may formally end the primary season as the "runner-up" is going to be .... Ron Paul.