Five Paths to the GOP 2012 Nomination

Let’s face it. We are all excited for the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination to start and there’s no shortage of candidates, with 18 making moves towards running according to my list. National polls do not matter at this point, as one victory in Iowa or New Hampshire can catapult a candidate to frontrunner status. More than anything, each candidate must decide where they fit into the primary calendar and where they will make their triumphant stand. And there appears to only be five realistic strategies available.

The first strategy is the most obvious one: Win both Iowa and New Hampshire and ride the tidal wave of momentum to victory. At this stage, only Mitt Romney can pull this off. Polls in Iowa vary, but he’s always at or near the top and he has a massive lead in New Hampshire. Although the one-two punch strategy didn’t work for Romney last time, it is not unrealistic to think he could pull it off this time with a higher profile and no candidate like John McCain with a base in New Hampshire from a previous race.

The second strategy is to win Iowa and South Carolina and use the momentum to take on the winner of the New Hampshire primary. The bulk of the candidates will be following this road and will drop out after Iowa. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Jim DeMint, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, and Herman Cain are all included in this category.

A slight variation of this strategy would be to fight for a strong finish in Iowa and win in South Carolina, making it a three-person race if two different people win Iowa and New Hampshire. This modified plan is best fit for Jim DeMint, as he’s the senator from South Carolina, and Herman Cain, as he’s from neighboring Georgia (and no, I’m not suggesting he’ll be a major candidate or will even get a spot at the debates). Some candidates that disappoint in Iowa may stick around in the hopes that the winner there trips up and they can offer themselves as the alternative in South Carolina.

The third strategy is to win New Hampshire, perhaps while trying to make a symbolic showing in Iowa. This path will be looked at by Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Donald Trump (should he make the publicity stunt of running and not just talking about it). A number of the candidates listed thus far won’t run, but their names are included because they’ve done at least minimal work towards a candidacy. Giuliani may run, thinking that he can win the independents and he won’t have McCain around splitting votes with him. As for Paul and Johnson, expect one of them to drop out and endorse the other before the voting begins. They may both run initially in order to increase the amount of time allotted for libertarians during the debates.