As the second quarter of 2011 nears its close, the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination has begun the process of sorting itself out. Mitt Romney is the front-runner. Michele Bachmann has emerged as an insurgent force. Tim Pawlenty has failed to catch fire. Sarah Palin’s candidacy remains unannounced. Rick Perry must decide if he’s too late to the show.
Following is our updated assessment of each candidate and where they stand as we head into the final six months of the “shadow primary” season.
Odds: Even Money.
Back in January, Mitt Romney was widely seen as a tenuous 'top-tier' candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. He's now perceived as the bona fide front-runner. For a guy who is famous for running lousy campaigns, Mr. Romney is running an awfully good campaign (so far) this time around.
He is raising money at a ferocious clip. He is gathering political endorsements and support around the country. He is building out a national campaign organisation that can help him withstand an early setback or two. And he's framed his candidacy on two basic ideas: (1) He's a highly capable turnaround guy who can turn around the US economy, and (2) he's the only GOP candidate with a realistic chance of defeating President Obama in November of 2012. The 'turnaround' narrative now has him tied with President Obama in most national surveys.
Romney remains vulnerable in the GOP primaries for all the reasons that everyone says: region, religion, Romneycare and 'authenticity.' But GOP primary voters are increasingly panicked by the thought of four more years of President Obama. If Romney's argument that he alone can beat Obama resonates with the primary and caucus electorates, causing their concerns about his candidacy to abate or at least diminish, he will be the nominee.
Sarah Palin's problem remains the same: Too many people think she lacks the knowledge and experience to serve effectively as President of the United States. As a result, two-thirds of the American electorate say that they will never vote for her in a general election.
She has done nothing over the course of the last six months to address this problem. Instead, she has relied on a series of publicity stunts to keep her name in the news. The latest of these was a bus tour of US historical sites along the eastern seaboard.
She now faces the rise of Michele Bachmann as a political force within the Republican Party. If Palin's going to run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, she needs to get going soon.
Everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong for Newt Gingrich. His campaign staff quit, his fundraising staff quit, his Iowa team quit. There was not one but two lines of bling credit at Tiffany's; one for up to $500,000 and the other for between $500,000 and $1,000,000.
In short, he's a goner.
Except he's still in the race, still going to debates, still stirring the pot. That makes him dangerous and interesting. The most dangerous person in politics is someone who has nothing to lose.
If the GOP nomination was awarded to the most libertarian candidate, Rep. Ron Paul would win in a landslide. He has not wavered from his beliefs at all. He has forthrightly argued libertarian principles in people's homes and in nationally-televised debates. At the South Carolina debate, he came out in favour of legalized prostitution, heroin and marijuana.
As a result, he is able to raise money, organise on a national level and wage a sustained campaign. The bad news (for him) is that he has no chance of winning the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. One thing you can say for certain about the 2012 GOP primary electorate: they will not elect as their standard-bearer someone who supports the legalization of prostitution, heroin and marijuana.
Michele Bachmann's candidacy was transformed two weeks ago by her performance at the CNN GOP Presidential Candidates Debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. She went from one of the laggards to Mitt Romney's principal rival in the space of two hours.
The question is whether Ms. Bachmann can raise her game. Following the publication of the first Iowa Poll of this presidential campaign cycle, which showed her tied with Romney for the lead, Ms. Bachmann was flooded with requests for interviews. She accepted a number of them and proceeded to make a hash of it.
If she continues to 'underperform' over the next couple of weeks, her candidacy will be irreparably damaged. If she gets her act together, she can be a serious challenger for her party's nomination.
At the beginning of this year, many analysts expected that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would rise into the top tier of contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. It hasn't happened. If anything, Pawlenty's candidacy has lost altitude over the course of the last six months.
He's way, way behind Romney's fund-raising. He's among the also-rans in the most recent Iowa polling. He's going nowhere in New Hampshire. It's hard to figure how he survives the early state elimination rounds of caucuses and primaries.
If he doesn't do 'surprisingly well' somehere in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, it seems likely his campaign will end before the first Super Tuesday primaries.
A Catholic candidate in an overwhelmingly Protestant electorate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was hoping that social issues would propel his candidacy forward. It hasn't happened. It won't happen.
Former US Ambassador Jon Huntsman's campaign boils down to one thing: If he can beat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, he can become the candidate of both traditional Republican voters and conservative-leaning independents. Theoretically, he can then leverage that support to win the GOP nomination.
So far, Amb. Huntsman has made a positive impression among New Hampshire voters, but he has yet to convert those good vibes into tangible support. Until he does, his campaign remains a long shot.
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain has enjoyed a mini-boomlet of support since the South Carolina and New Hampshire GOP presidential candidates debates aired on Fox News and CNN, respectively. But he has no organisation and very little institutional political support, and he has no chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Cain understands this, but is enjoying the ride anyway.
It may be too late for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to get into the race, but if he does, he will pose a significant threat to the candidacies of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin (assuming she runs). The two most important early states (Iowa and New Hampshire) don't set up well for Perry, but as the race moves south and west the terrain becomes much more hospitable to his reading of conservative gospel.
Should he enter the race, he would be seen as a first-tier candidate immediately. Whether he actually is a first-tier candidate remains to be seen.
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