Saturday, December 31, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

On the first day of 2011, I wrote that I was supporting Mitt Romney for President of the United States and that he stood a good chance of becoming the 2012 Republican nominee and ultimately the nation's 45th President.

Now, on the final day of 2011, I feel exactly the same way and am more determined than ever to see this happen and as optimistic as I was when this year began. Not everything is the same in my mind though. While the incumbent Democrat Barack Obama is basically as unpopular as he was at the beginning of the year, particularly because of continued economic struggles throughout the country, I no longer believe, as I speculated on January 1, that any Republican candidate could win the White House. This past year has proven that among all who did jump in the fray, only one can win and that candidate is Mitt Romney.

After the celebration and revelry of this weekend, we will get down to business on Tuesday evening when the Iowa Caucuses will be held. A week from now, it is likely that the GOP field will be at least somewhat changed and more greatly defined. At the moment, there are seven major contenders who will begin 2012 hoping to earn the support of the voters. Two former Governors ran in 2011 but are non-factors on the GOP side. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, as previously discussed has formally ended his Republican bid, pledging instead to seek the Libertarian nomination to appear on the November ballot. However, he also endorsed Ron Paul for the GOP nomination, but seemed to indicate he did not expect him to be nominated. Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer may still formally be running as a Republican, but has never appeared in any debate and has gotten scant media attention. He may be hoping that the independent "Americans Elect" organization does not find any higher profile person to back for a general election attempt.

While former candidate Herman Cain and non candidates like Sarah Palin will probably get some votes at the events, I will now in ascending order, make predictions and briefly discuss what is on the line for the remaining seven Republican candidates in the final days before Iowa.

7. Jon Huntsman-

The former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China is the one candidate to decide to bypass the Iowa contest, which tend to be heavily dominated by conservatives. Thus he is certain to finish dead last. Looking ahead to the First in the Nation Primary, the following week, Huntsman recently said, "Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks Presidents." Right now, he is not looking too hot in either state.

6. Michele Bachmann-

A week ago, I had a hunch that Bachmann, who has shown organizational strength in the past, as seen by her summer Straw Poll victory would regain support and potentially finish third in Iowa. The polls this week seem to show differently though, as those whom Bachmann needed have seemed to gravitate to one other candidate in particular. Perhaps this is another example of Iowa's reputation of being a difficult state for female candidates to win in.

One of the more intriguing stories of the past week involved a conservative State Senator,who was serving as Chairman of Bachmann's Hawkeye State campaign, inexplicably and suddenly leaving her campaign to publicly endorse Ron Paul. This was clearly a big blow for the Bachmann campaign, even if it means that others may find some sympathy for such an act of political betrayal. Bachmann claimed that the State Senator told her that the Paul campaign had offered him a large amount of money. Both the former Chairman and the Paul campaign denied that, which clearly means that someone is lying. A Bachmann Iowa strategist vouched for the integrity of the departed Chairman, leading him to (understandably) be fired by Bachmann. Just a mess all around.

While Michele Bachmann on Tuesday is likely to receive more votes for President than any Republican woman in history, this may indeed be her last week in the race, as she would have to look ahead instead perhaps to a Congressional reelection campaign.

5. Newt Gingrich-

The next few candidates seem to be heavily bunched together in the polls, but I think Gingrich will finish fifth, a tremendous setback for the campaign that was clearly leading Iowa polls a couple weeks ago.

Much of the week featured a story involving how Gingrich had compared his failure to qualify for the ballot in his residential state of Virginia as akin to Pearl Harbor for his campaign. That was an example of fairly typical historical bluster that the former Speaker is known for. Mitt Romney quipped that Gingrich's organizational failure is more akin to the infamous chocolate factory episode of the 1950's sitcom "I Love Lucy."

While Newt shed tears while discussing his mother at an event yesterday, it is unlikely to win him back many votes, as it might have for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire four years ago. With various candidates jockeying for one of the top three spots in Iowa, Gingrich is continuing to take hits from other campaigns.

Gingrich will probably surpass double digits on Tuesday night,but his lack of organization in the state, as compared to the opposition, will make it more difficult for him to outperform his current poll numbers. For now, Gingrich is saying that he plans to stick around until South Carolina, which he sees as his best shot, but the negative ads against him have clearly had their effect.

4. Rick Perry-

Is it possible that late breaking conservatives will rally around the Texas Governor, who months ago, also looked like a solid Iowa frontrunner? Perhaps, but the candidate is another of those who in tight competition with others looking for at least a third place finish are getting attacked. Perry seems to be spending the most money on the Iowa airwaves, but has been left with very little choice but try to take the fight directly to the surging Rick Santorum, and has attempted to do so on the issue of earmarks.

One has to wonder what position Perry would currently be in if he was able to debate worth a lick, but for now, he would probably be quite pleased with finishing fourth in Iowa (the position achieved by eventual 2008 nominee John McCain, though he did not put any effort into the state.) The Governor is likely to skip New Hampshire all together (where he is mired at about 2 percent of the vote) and focus exclusively on South Carolina as an attempt to save his campaign, after one or more of the other conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney drop out.

3. Rick Santorum-

The former Pennsylvania Senator has never led any sort of poll this year, but some believe that he is very much within striking distance for a sudden Iowa victory. I think he will finish third, although second place would definitely not surprise me.

All year, the other mainstream candidates (which would exclude Ron Paul) not named Mitt Romney have gotten their turn to be the "flavor of the month" and one by one they all fell by the wayside. Santorum never got his chance, but he seems to be surging at just the right time. It appears that once a candidate falls off, Iowans are not willing to give them a second look, but instead will look at the last one left.

A strong under the radar organization is expected to benefit Santorum this upcoming week. He has little support to speak of anywhere else in the country, but he is being backed by many of the same Evangelical Protestant activists who propelled Mike Huckabee to victory four years ago in the state. While Huckabee was a Southern Baptist ex-preacher, it is somewhat ironic that the current front-runner among Evangelicals could be a Roman Catholic from the urban Northeast. I will say that Santorum's public record on issues across the spectrum is indeed more conservative than that of Huckabee.

2. Ron Paul-

If the Iowa Caucuses are a typical event, Paul will not win and could finish well below second. If instead, his organizational support succeeds in attracting Independents and Democrats to change their registration and attend a GOP Caucus, he will probably be the winner Tuesday night.

There's not really much more to be said about the Texas Congressman. Regular Republicans tend to consider him "unacceptable" as the nominee, while most of his support is among those who probably have never voted Republican for President in a general election and would always be unlikely to do so.

The most fascinating Ron Paul related story of the week to me is that of Season One American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson taking to Twitter to endorse his candidacy. This created quite an online storm as followers of Clarkson tweeted her back incredulously citing examples of what they say of Paul being racist or homophobic. Clarkson, who backed Obama in 2008, seemed completely unaware of those allegations, but did not retract the endorsement. Her online music sales spiked suddenly, as Paul's cult-like devotees likely decided to patronize her, but I will be interested to see if there is any longer-term backlash for Clarkson's career. It was probably an endorsement she would have been wiser to keep to herself.

1. Mitt Romney-

Four years ago, I also predicted that my candidate, Mitt Romney, would win Iowa, and I was disappointed then when it did not come true. So, I am cautious in once again predicting a victory, but I think that even if he loses, the overall dynamics of the campaign this time around would make it a mere blip.

Like four years ago, the polls are showing a close race, and many of them now have Romney, who has spent far less money and far less time in the state as he did the last time, as being ahead. He has been on the airwaves this past week with a completely positive message, while the other candidates have been going after each other, instead of turning their political fire on Romney.

Romney, his family, and high profile surrogates are definitely making a late push to win the state though. They would live though with a second place showing behind Ron Paul. Anything below second would be spun by the media as a severe rebuke, though all things considered I think he could even manage to get by with a bronze medal, followed up by a quick New Hampshire victory. There seems to be a good deal of confidence in the Romney camp though, as seen by the fact he will stay in the state the night of the voting and to do the morning shows the next day before heading to New Hampshire. They will be hoping it will be a victory lap.

For the entire year, many Iowa conservatives have looked just about anywhere else they could for a Romney alternative, but as I always expected would happen, at this late date, they have gotten dead serious about electability, and have quietly settled on Romney. Some may back him in the state now primarily to try to deny a Ron Paul victory.

If there is one word that can be assigned to describe Mitt Romney's 2011, it would have to be "luck." There was definitely luck in play in regards to the candidates who did not run (such as John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Haley Barbour) and those who dropped out (perahps too early in the case of Tim Pawlenty) and luck in regards to being in a race against in Iowa against Ron Paul and Rick Santorum instead of those who could more conceivably give him a stronger battle nationally such as Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich.

As 2011 ends, Mitt Romney is on the precipice of capturing the GOP Presidential nomination on his second attempt. If that comes to fruition, it will take some luck and a strong campaign to defeat Barack Obama, a politician who is down, but should definitely not be considered out.

From my perspective, the year of 2011 has shown that Mitt Romney will be in line to demonstrate he has the right message and right strategy to end 2012 with the same hope with which his supporters will begin the year.

Believe in America.