Saturday, December 03, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

I have been having a very busy week and am unable to look at the week's developments in Presidential politics in great detail. Here are just some disjointed thoughts for the day.

With the Iowa Caucuses one month from tonight, the remaining GOP Presidential candidates are expected to take part in a Fox News forum hosted by one of their personalities, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. While "Huck" had passed on another Presidential bid earlier this year, he was the winner of the Iowa contest in 2008 and would be considered a major "get" as an endorsement. Despite longtime stories of personal animosity between the two during the '08 campaign, there have been several stories as of late indicating that Huckabee might be inching closer to an endorsement of his former rival Mitt Romney. That would be a significant development for the Romney campaign in Iowa, as they believe it would help them make inroads with Evangelical Christians and other conservatives.

Not taking part in his first campaign debate or forum of the season will be Herman Cain. Not long ago, he was leading national polls and was in first place in Iowa. Today, he suspended his campaign, ironically enough during a rally at a new campaign headquarters in Atlanta. It had been a dramatic rise for the Cain campaign and the fall has come just as fast. Questions about Cain's experience and knowledge aside, he had been rocked weeks ago by allegations of sexual harassment, but even more damaging news came during the past week,when a woman named Ginger White went on television and alleged a thirteen year affair. Cain denied that, but admitted that he had a friendship with the woman and had been giving her money for years, without his wife's knowledge.

While Gloria Cain was at her husband's side today as he ended his campaign and moved on to "Plan B" which seems to involve staying involved in the national debate, with future plans to endorse a Republican Presidential candidate, it was a pretty bizarre week for political observers as the candidate openly speculated on whether or not his campaign would end after having a long awaited face to face reunion with his wife this weekend. He had said that if the burden of these allegations became too much, he would step aside, and that seems to be what has happened. Nothing like this has really happened in Presidential politics since the Gary Hart scandal back in 1987. So, Cain is now out and it will remain to be seen just how interested the media will be in Ginger White and whatever further evidence of an affair she may wish to provide.

Even before his formal exit, Cain had fallen dramatically in the polls (which we are told will be seen later tonight when the Des Moines Register relases it's new numbers.) With Rick Perry still struggling to regain the conservatives he once had and basically only making news when he makes gaffes during campaign appearances, this support has coalesced in a big way currently behind Newt Gingrich, who to the surprise of many, looks even stronger than he did two weeks ago.

While I do not think it will last for the duration, there is no doubt that Gingrich is currently the national leader and has a huge lead in many important states, as the now consensus choice of the "non-Romneys". However, the former House Speaker continues to lag behind Mitt Romney in a big way in regards to money and organization, and has yet to face real intense scrutiny over questions regarding his personal and political pasts and his electability against Barack Obama. Despite that, Gingrich is even looking fairly good against Obama in some national polls. I also question the long-term accuracy as that, because as a Republican, I fear that if nominated, Gingrich would fall in a severe landslide to the unpopular Democrat incumbent.

The White House certainly would like to run against Gingrich and have joined in as of late in launching attacks against Mitt Romney. Democrats feel that they might either be able to actually influence the GOP nomination contest in stopping Romney or seriously weakening him before a general election.

With the former Massachusetts Governor receiving fire from all ends the past couple of weeks, there are much questions in regards to his campaign strategy and positioning. The often unflappable candidate appeared to be quite peeved during a Fox News interview with Brett Baier earlier this week and was panned by many for the performance.

It remains to be seen just how serious the Romney campaign will be in viewing Gingrich as a threat in Iowa, New Hampshire, or anywhere else, and if they will turn to the airwaves to attack him. The messages have been a bit mixed thus far, as they probably prefer to have other candidates or the media dredge up the serious vulnerabilities that Gingrich has, or also they may just be patient in waiting for Newt's own mouth to get him into trouble. For his part, Gingrich is saying he plans to stay above the fray and not return attacks in kind. It will be interesting to see the dynamic in the next few debates, such as tonight with Huckabee, and later on in the month, with one hosted by none other than Donald Trump. That should make for interesting (if not necessarily smart) television.

I could go on for pages as to reasons why Gingrich is leading Romney currently among conservatives, while not necessarily being more conservative. I do feel that the next few weeks will see these questions come more to the forefront, but even if Iowa produces an unorthodox result a month from now (such as a very strong showing for Ron Paul), there will be other opportunities for a candidate like Romney to right the ship in New Hampshire and then try to take Florida and South Carolina. What appears more obvious though is that if Gingrich or any other non-Romney option cannot take Iowa, they are unlikely to win anywhere, and it will be a fairly short contest.

While trailing once again in the polls against the newest "flavor of the month", Romney continues to garner endorsements. Recently, he had received ones from folks such as New Hampshire's new Senator Kelly Ayotte, a favorite of conservatives, as well as her South Dakota colleague John Thune, who once looked like a serious Presidential candidate, but who opted not to run. We can speculate that had he run Thune might be in a strong position as a Romney alternative among many in the GOP right now. Along those lines, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, now a top Romney campaign surrogate, perhaps somewhere deep down feels he conceded to Mitt too early and might be in a strong position now if he had stayed the course and remained in the race.

In a bit of a contrast this past week (besides for the potentially significant endorsements of Florida's Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, her colleague Mario Diaz-Balart, and his brother, the former Congressman), the Romney campaign has been rolling out some more moderate GOP endorsements, such as those from former Iowa Governor Robert Ray, former Missouri Senator John Danforth, and Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (which almost sounds like something that could push her rival Sarah Palin publicly into another camp.)

Hypothetical situations aside, we can now look at a perceived reality of a Romney vs. Gingrich fight. Experience, character, and electability are things that Republicans will need to think very strongly about as opposed to just who gives the best pithy sound bites.

Switching gears to conclude this week's post involve a mention of some third party/Independent Presidential news. Donald Trump, who publicly has seemed to be leaning towards Romney, continues to state that he might run if he is unsatisfied with the GOP nominee, but I think that will be unlikely. Struggling GOP candidate Jon Huntsman also apparently ruled out an Independent bid this past week and is even being urged to do so by one time GOP loyalist former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Nearly invisible Republican candidate Gary Johnson is now seemingly preparing his supporters for his exit from the GOP race to instead seek the Libertarian Party nomination. One GOP candidate who never got out of the exploratory phase, social conservative Roy Moore, was thought of as a potential Constitution Party candidate instead, but in the past week, he ended all White House speculation by launching instead a comeback attempt to the Alabama Supreme Court. One name that might get some mention in the right-wing Constitution Party is former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, who served from 1997-2009, first as a Democrat, then as an Independent, and finally as a Republican. On the other end of the spectrum, former controversial Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney may seek a repeat of her 2008 Presidential nomination from the Green Party. Additionally, the very liberal former Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, is apparently planning on some sort of White House run.

In considering potential third party bids (which would be very significant in my view if the nation is faced with a choice between Obama and Gingrich ), the top people to watch would of course be Ron Paul, who likely will still try to make as much noise as possible, as well as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, who could attempt to get ballot access as some sort of centrist Ross Perot type option of the 21st Century.