Tuesday, March 8, 2011

2012 Already? Candidate Rundown

It's time. Over the next few weeks, politicians will begin to formally announce their candidacies for the Republican presidential nomination. The crop:

Mitt Romney: Former governor of Massachusetts. If this race has anything approximating a front-runner, Mitt is it. But his flip-flopping, perceived inauthenticity, and RomneyCare will be big challenges in the primary. His bid involves keeping expectations as low as possible in Iowa and decisively winning in New Hampshire. Romney's chances rest on the implausibility of nearly all the other candidates. In the general election, he's probably got the best shot at ousting Obama, running as a smart economics-driven moderate. More here.

Newt Gingrich: Former Speaker of the House from Georgia. To get his name circulating and to signal Republican base voters, he's periodically said really crazy things over the last year or so. He's totally unelectable against Obama, which will probably keep him from winning the nomination. Add to that the specific path to victory (too Beltway for Iowa, too insane for New Hampshire), and he doesn't stand a chance. Maybe he's angling for influence or something? More here.

Jon Huntsman: Former governor of Utah and Ambassador to China under Obama. Need I say more? He'd be better than Romney against Obama, but primary voters will never pick someone who worked for the enemy. Add to that his lack of name recognition and he's got no chance at all. I think Huntsman is positioning himself for 2016, figuring that Obama will get reelected. By quitting the ambassadorship early and maybe running this cycle, he'll have some distance by 2016 and will have built a national image as a moderate Republican. After two crushing defeats, Republicans in 2016 will turn to the most electable candidate. Huntsman, with impeccable domestic and foreign policy credentials, will top the list. More here.

Haley Barbour: Governor of Mississippi. Longtime Republican super-lobbyist would have plenty of money and elite backing, but seems unlikely too generate much popular support among independents. He's a fat, stereotypical Southern Republican with a terrible record on racial issues. Obama would eat him alive in a general matchup. More here.

Tim Pawlenty: Former governor of Minnesota. He's been calculating this run for a long time, and as such has a strong conservative record for primary voters, although his name recognition is terrible. A victory for Pawlenty rests on a great showing in Iowa and building momentum and cash to challenge Romney in New Hampshire. Among all the candidates, Pawlenty has the best aggregate primary-plus-general electability, however high expectations in Iowa may prevent Pawlenty from punching out of the pack. Oh well, there's always 2016. More here and here.

Rick Santorum: I feel kinda bad for the guy (and his kids), but this problem seems insurmountable.

Mitch Daniels: Governor of Indiana. The favorite among conservative pundits due to his competency, cerebral style, and disdain for contentious social issues. Ironically, that last point would be a terrible obstacle in the primary election. I'm not convinced that Daniels would be such a strong general election candidate, either. He's bald, and was budget chief under George W. Bush, which seems like an almost comically bad qualification in light of Bush's fiscal irresponsibility. His nominating path is difficult: expectations would be high in Iowa due to Indiana's proximity, and he'd have to face Pawlenty's all-out Iowa blitz. Daniels' identity as an economic conservative (rather than social conservative) also means that expectations would be high in New Hampshire, where he'd face Romney's bastion. With no clear path to the nomination, it's no wonder Daniels is leaning away from a run. More here.

In case anybody is wondering why I didn't mention Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, it's because they won't be running. He's too fat and she's too uninterested, and both are too rich and too loose with facts to be framed as "electable". Their celebrity rests in part on the media's perception that they will run, so they've both played the "coy interview response" game with much gusto. But make no mistake: it's not gonna happen.

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