With the Iowa caucuses a mere 10 weeks away, the 2012 Republican presidential candidates are putting on a full court press to win over the influential conservatives who can bring the votes and money they need to stay in the race.
It is a long road to the Republican nomination, and there are lots of friends to make along the way. Here are the 10 GOP gatekeepers Republicans need to court to make it past Super Tuesday.
Who Is He: Second-Highest Rated Talk-Radio Personality, and fixture on Fox News primetime.
Why You Need Him: Hannity gives candidates loads of airtime with base voters in the GOP -- even more than Rush Limbaugh. He lobs softball after softball question to them. His shows are the easiest way to get your message to the base. And once you are in his good graces, for years afterward you can promote your latest book with him.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Hannity likes winning more than he likes being an intellectual conservative. It has led him to throw his weight behind Arnold Schwarzenegger in California's race and Rudy Giuliani in previous election cycles. An inveterate hawk since 9/11, Hannity will use his forum to push you away from defence-spending cuts.
Who Is He: Founder of RedState.com Night-time talk radio host.
Why You Need Him: Posting at RedState.com is a great way to earn respect among sceptical and hard-to-please conservative activists. Erickson claims that he and his readers were instrumental in pushing the Republicans to demand more during the debt ceiling deal this summer. 'Had there not been people like me and others holding feet to the fire, we wouldn't have gotten as much as we got,' Erickson told New York Magazine. RedState's conference became the stage on which Rick Perry launched his campaign.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Erickson is a self-made pundit and it shows occasionally. He has gotten into embarrassing arguments with other pundits. And because his role in the conservative movement is more like a thermometer than a thermostat, he can turn cold to you the minute your campaign begins to slide among a critical mass of his readers.
Who Is He: The Senate's Most Conservative Policy Guru
Why You Need Him: The junior Senator from South Carolina has been grooming a model conservative GOP caucus since his election in 2004. He can provide plenty of cover on a candidate's right flank.
The Baggage You'll Carry: DeMint typically stakes out the most conservative position in the Senate and then pushes it just a little further -- on issues from gay marriage and abortion to a balanced budget amendment. His endorsement can mean a series of embarrassing questions.
DeMint endorsed Romney in 2007 to stave off a McCain nomination. But in doing so he praised the now-detested-by conservatives RomneyCare. 'There's no one in the race like Mitt Romney who's proved in business and in his volunteer work and as governor of Massachusetts that he can solve a problem,
Who Is He: The Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Fiscal Wonk.
Why You Need Him: Ryan has built an Obama-era reputation as the GOP's fiscal policy wonk, going toe-to-toe with Obama and releasing a 'Roadmap' to a balanced budget. Paul Ryan's support can swing well-heeled fiscal conservatives into your camp.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Ryan's 'Roadmap' includes seriously large cuts to middle-class entitlements in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. His balanced budgets are very popular, but millions of soon-to-be-retiring Boomers have premised their retirements on these programs.
Who Is He: Sheriff of Maricopia County Arizona.
Why You Need Him: He has succeeded the various Minutemen Groups as the living symbol of anxiety over mass immigration. An endorsement from Sheriff Joe signals that you won't be a pushover for amnesty.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Sheriff Joe has been sued by the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and called 'America's Worst Sheriff' by the New York Times. His means for enforcing immigration law on the local level have been controversial, and his department seems to be perpetually simmering with moral and financial scandals.
Who Is He: The Evangelical Powerbroker.
Why You Need Him: Lane is the quiet force behind the newly revitalized Christian Right, and holds the keys to key evangelical conservatives -- a key Republican voting block that makes up about 50% of primary voters. Lane's endorsement virtually guarantees that other fundamental evangelical preachers will follow suit.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Many of the pastors in Lane's network have a history of incendiary remarks that could taint a candidate who accepts their endorsement. Candidates will likely be forced to walk the fine line of courting Lane while avoiding associations that could be damaging in a general election.
Who Is He: Chairman of Fox News
Why You Need Him: Simple. He's the chairman of Fox News. His primetime lineup is your weekly national convention.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Any Republican candidate will eventually be attacked by the left as a tool in Ailes' hands.
Who Is He: Prime Minister of Israel and chairman of the Likud Party
Why You Need Him: Bibi wisely doesn't endorse foreign candidates. But GOP candidates need to have themselves seen praising his strength, vision and leadership. Christian Zionists are a small but influential bloc of voters in the GOP electorate who are hyper-educated on small-bore issues like 'pension divestment' and power-sharing in Jerusalem.
The Baggage You'll Carry: None during your nomination. The baggage comes in all the policy-promises you make before you enter office. And the worry is that any deviation from these will cause Bibi to come before Congress and run circles around you, as he did to Obama this year.
Who Is He: President of Americans for Tax Reform and the unofficial wrangler of movement conservative institutions in Washington.
Why You Need Him: Noquist is the consummate coalition builder. His Wednesday morning meetings in Washington are at once legendary and totally ordinary. His staff keeps him answering media requests the very day they are issued making him a fantastic surrogate.
The Baggage You'll Carry: The Tax Pledge. You will be constrained from proposing, suggesting, or ever signing a net increase in any tax or the creation of a new tax. This tax-aversion is one of the reasons Mitt Romney decided to raise tolls and fees for everything in Massachusetts.
Who Is He: Executive Vice President and CEO of The National Rifle Association
Why You Need Him: Gun owners comprise a small but extremely active interest group in the Republican primary and play a disproportionate role in primaries like Iowa and South Carolina.
The Baggage You'll Carry: Very little. The cause of gun control continues to wane largely due to the efforts of men like LaPierre. Your only worry is that there will be a sensational gun crime during your campaign.
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