I can’t take it anymore! I have to comment on the 2012 race. I love analyzing presidential elections like a normal guy loves critiquing football coaches. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at polls and studying the moves of every potential candidate. Already, two years before the primary elections and roughly a year before candidates start officially declaring their entry into the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, the advantages and dilemmas facing each aspirant are beginning to be seen.
The first batch of candidates we can look at are the candidates who need to come in the top three in Iowa to remain viable. The result of this first contest will decide which one or two social conservative darlings will continue as the race dwindles to two or three major contenders. Former Governor Mike Huckabee is having a great time as a TV host and says it is more likely than not that he will decline to run; Sarah Palin’s probable entry must influence that statement, although he could use his support of the FairTax to define his candidacy. Coming out of Iowa, only one of the two will survive if both run. Mitt Romney will also make a stand here, but the stakes are less high for him.
A batch of second-tier candidates will need to score at least second or third place in order to gain momentum. Currently leading this category is Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is definitely running. Senator Jim DeMint received little attention when he began a PAC and released a book, but can follow up a third-place showing with a win in his home state of South Carolina later. Congressman Mike Pence says he has thought about running in 2012 if the conditions are right, has declined to run for Senate, and has visited Iowa. Senator John Thune hasn’t publicly expressed interest, but the conservative media continues to promote him and he isn’t discouraging it.
Governor Haley Barbour might run also, but the field is crowded, he lacks the charisma to burst onto the scene as Huckabee did, and his history as a lobbyist won’t go over well with a public concerned about the integrity of its elected officials. I consider Newt Gingrich to be a top-tier candidate, with huge potential to break out as the frontrunners get slugged and he rocks the debates and offers new ideas instead of vague slogans. He and Romney are the most likely to come off as credible policy wonks. The major problem he faces is figuring out where to score a victory, as there are many other candidates more appealing to social conservatives in Iowa and there’s no other state that isn’t immediately inclined to support someone else.
Former Senator Rick Santorum is the most open in expressing his interest in 2012, but his landslide defeat in 2006 makes it unlikely he’ll be encouraged enough to run and even less likely to be viable. Former Idaho governor and secretary of the interior Dirk Kempthorne is reportedly gauging support, but will probably not run — and if he does, probably won’t do much better than former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore in 2008. Several of these candidates will not run and the majority will officially or unofficially be out of the race once Iowa is finished.
New Hampshire will decide who will be the candidate that may win the nomination but is less of a hero to social conservatives. If Rudy Giuliani runs, which is unlikely, he’ll have to win here, but he spent an enormous amount of time in the state before 2008 and couldn’t create a firm base. This will probably be Mitt Romney’s prime target and he will probably have come in the top three in Iowa, giving him some momentum. If he wins in Iowa, a victory in New Hampshire is nearly guaranteed and his momentum may be unstoppable. This state is followed by Michigan, so the primary calendar is most in his favor. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson will try to make an impact in New Hampshire, as this is where his independent libertarian streak is most attractive. George Pataki has visited Iowa and is going to New Hampshire soon, and if he tricks himself into thinking he has a chance and runs, then he’ll have to use his moderate credentials to make a strong showing here.
Governors Mitch Daniels and Bobby Jindal are hot items right now, but both have denied interest and have made no moves to make us doubt their sincerity. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman can be counted out since he was named the ambassador to China by the Obama administration.
The primary calendar can still shift, but as of right now, this seems to be the most likely sequence. If there is more time between when states vote, this makes it more difficult for the early victors to sustain momentum.
Overall, who has the early edge? Mitt Romney. The Iowa field is the most competitive and even a respectable showing there can be considered a victory leading into New Hampshire and Michigan. His PAC raised the most money last year, beating Palin despite the tidal wave of media coverage she had. With the country focused on the economy, the political environment most favors him by far. Things can and will quickly change, but right now the road ahead is looking good for Romney.