Thursday, February 10, 2011

And They're Off!

With the opening of the Conservative Political Action Conference today comes the opening of the 2012 campaign, at least for Republicans. Doyle McManus' latest column takes a look at the conference and at the invited speakers and offers some clues as to the front runners for the GOP's presidential nomination to challenge President Obama.

There are really only two spots on the GOP ballot. One is reserved for Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who won nine primaries in 2008. The other is for someone who isn't Mitt Romney — someone like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee or Tim Pawlenty.

Romney has been running for the nomination the old-fashioned way. He has raised more money than any other hopeful ($6.3 million for his political action committee during the last two years). He spent most of last year collecting IOUs as he helped Republican candidates across the country win House and Senate seats. He's the solid front-runner in polls in New Hampshire, the first primary election state.

Romney, a "Reagan Conservative" (whatever that means today), should be the presumptive nominee, but this isn't, as McManus points out, your father's Republican Party. Tea Party ideologues have stepped to the spotlight and they aren't likely to yield it to a man who instituted Massachusetts's healthcare plan while governor and who thought TARP was a pretty good idea. That's why Palin, Huckabee, and Pawlenty have a shot, as do several other Republicans including Newt Gingrich.

In polling so far, Republican voters have consistently listed four potential candidates as their top choices, in slightly varying orders: Romney, Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich. But that's no prediction of where things will end up either. The same question four years ago yielded a clear front-runner for the 2008 nomination, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and he didn't win anywhere.

Still, those polls do reveal one interesting factor: Of the four best-known candidates, Romney and Huckabee appear acceptable to almost all Republicans — but Palin and Gingrich both gather relatively high "unfavorable" ratings, meaning they'd face a tougher sales job.

What about Tim Pawlenty? Well, he's presented himself as both a fiscal and a social conservative. Unfortunately, the man has the "charisma" of a banana slug.

And that's where CPAC comes in. The conference is a showcase. While the winner of the strawpoll held there is no shoe-in for the nomination (Romney won it four years ago), the candidates will be given an opportunity to shine or to bomb. That might explain those candidates who won't be at the conference because of "scheduling conflicts" (Palin and Huckabee).

Even without Palin and Huckabee, however, this is going to be fun to watch as the candidates present try to make their early bones by trying to out-right the others.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you still see them as running against Obama. I personally doubt very much that he can win the Demo nomination, but we'll have to wait and see. His policies, incompetence and corruption have severely damaged this nation and a lot of peoples' lives, and at best he's got a long and bruising primary campaign ahead of him.

1:39 PM  

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