Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Muddled GOP Primary Getting More Muddled

The Republican primary field grew this past week with Congressman Ron Paul announcing his intentions to run for president. In light of a recent NY Times poll showing 6 in 10 Republicans unsatisfied with the current crop of candidates, it seems almost certain that more GOP presidential hopefuls will decide to throw dice as well in the coming months. Expressions of interest coupled with non-announcements on the parts of Former Senator Fred Thompson, Senator Chuck Hagel, and Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have gotten a lot of press and they make the present field murkier than ever.

Another emerging wildcard in the race is the growing number of states that are moving their primaries up to earlier February. “This primary season is turning into the most challenging Rubik’s Cube that we’ve faced in our lifetime,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Romney's legal counsel. The New York Times highlighted the difficulties this poses for the candidates, especially lesser known candidates like Romney, in a recent article:
The trickle of states moving their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5 has turned into an avalanche, forcing all the presidential campaigns to reconsider every aspect of their nominating strategy — where to compete, how to spend money, when to start television advertising — as they gird for the prospect of a 20-state national primary day.... There is near-universal agreement among officials of both parties that the new calendar will give a huge advantage to well-known candidates, in particular Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Beyond that, California and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani than are Iowa and South Carolina, with their many conservative voters.
Acknowledging these challenges, Romney seems to be trying to position himself as the only acceptable alternative to the current frontrunners, Giulaini and McCain. If no other formidable candidates enter the race, I think it is a sound strategy. I think Romney is going to have a tough time if a Newt Gingrich jumps in on the action though.

A few notes of interest on a handful of GOP candidates:

Fred Thompson
Former Tennessee Senator and current Law & Order star Fred Thompson hinted over the weekend that he might be interested in throwing his hat into the presidential race. Initial reactions among most conservatives were incredibly positive... Which begs the question, who would this hurt most? At this point I'd have to say Romney. Thompson's dive into presidential politics might result in a Gingrich-like effect, spurring defections from Romney's current cache of congressional endorsements and potentially split the key constituency he is courting in the Republican primaries. Yesterday, Congressman John J. Duncan said he would withdraw his support for Romney were Thompson to run while Bill Frist openly urged Thompson to run on his VOLPAC blog.

Newt Gingrich
The Wall Street Journal had a run-down on Newt on Saturday that discussed the shadow Newt is currently casting over the Republican nomination: "Whether he runs or not, the very notion of a Gingrich candidacy says as much about the glum mood among Republicans and the seeming weakness of the current crop of candidates as it does about Mr. Gingrich." Gingrich's recent revelation to James Dobson of marital infidelity during the Clinton impeachment is viewed by some pundits as a "tactical move in an unfolding strategy" toward an ultimate run for president.

Chuck Hagel
Hagel announced he's not announcing... yet. Is he waiting for conservative dissatisfaction with the current candidates to foment and its unease with Bush and the war in Iraq to solidify in order to pad his candidacy?

John McCain
Lindsey Graham touting McCain (...I think): "'THIS IS NOT Luke Skywalker here,' said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), discussing his friend and Senate colleague John McCain's second run for the presidency. 'This is a totally different campaign.'"

Rudy Giuliani
Giuliani gets "Youtubed" again... The AP is reporting though that Giuliani's moderate stances are not hindering his candidacy. Interestingly, some conservatives seem more unsettled with Giuliani's multiple marriages than his liberal social views. Senator David Vitter, meanwhile, explains his choice to support Giuliani.

Mike Huckabee
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last week, Mike Huckabee, a one-time Baptist pastor, said he thinks a candidate's religion is relevant: "'I think its fair game to ask a person about his or her faith... I mean, I'm asked about mine all the time. I don't find that offensive.' Asked whether Romney's faith is fair game, Huckabee said candidates who say they are religious should speak out about their faith. 'I find that very important because my faith will let people know what my judgments are based on, what my values system is about and where it comes from.' Huckabee said. 'It's a good predictor of how I would likely make decisions and what I think are the important factors in that.'"

I wasn't sure where to throw this, but Time magazine had an interesting article last week on the Republican search for a candidate:
For the G.O.P., 2008 looks like a daunting year. It's hard for one party to win three straight Presidential elections even in the best of times. (It's only happened once in the last 50 years). And the radical unpopularity of the Bush Administration and the Iraq war will make it harder still. So conservatives should be thrilled they have candidates like McCain, Giuliani and Romney, with proven appeal to Democrats and independents. And they should understand that, given the dismal image of the Washington G.O.P., a Republican Presidential nominee must maintain a maverick or outsider image to have any shot at victory. Instead, even as McCain, Giuliani and Romney move frantically in their ideological direction, conservative activists are raising the bar and threatening to stay home next fall.


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