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.
The fourth strategy would be to win Nevada, which would require a strong showing in either Iowa or New Hampshire in order to withstand the momentum and media coverage the winners there receive. Romney won here last time, so this will be tough to do especially if he wins New Hampshire. The closeness of this contest to the others means that the results in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the biggest factor and so it is a long shot for any candidate to claim Nevada as his staking ground. It didn’t work out so well for Duncan Hunter last time, and it probably won’t work this time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be tried.
You may notice that John Bolton and Newt Gingrich have not been included yet. That is because, as of right now, I don’t see what primary strategy they can have. Gingrich will have too much baggage for social conservatives in Iowa and his fiery partisanship won’t play well in New Hampshire and he’ll have a lot of catching up to do to tackle Romney. Absent a meltdown of the leading candidacies and his emergence as a compromise candidate, Gingrich’s only chance appears to be to embrace a fifth strategy made possible by changes to the primary calendar.
The Republican Party has voted to only allow Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to hold their contests in February. In March, the states with proportional representation of the vote will hold their contests and in April, the winner-takes-all states will have their chance.
That means that it is possible that at the end of the February as the race falls to two or possibly three or four candidates, another alternative like Gingrich could emerge as each candidate’s negatives grow as they attack each other. However, this is not terribly dissimilar from the Super Tuesday plan of Clinton and Giuliani last time around. The candidates who have won contests will have tremendous momentum going into March and it will be hard for another candidate to break in.
At this juncture, Mitt Romney is the in the best position to win the nomination, but it is a fragile lead. The Tea Party could easily turn its wrath upon him for his health care plan in Massachusetts.
The 2012 race has already begun and with so many candidates considering a run, it should be expected that a few will essentially declare themselves in the contest in the weeks following the congressional elections.
The next election cycle began on November 3, 2010.