Expect these madcap and contentious episodes to continue throughout the political season. Romney will be painted as a modern-day “Gordon Gekko” due to his big money, private equity days (the candidate’s 1% moment during the Iowa debate when he made a $10,000 bet with Perry over a passage in his book on healthcare policy didn’t help). Gingrich will provide more fodder with outrageous statements that, thus far, include that “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits and nobody around them who works” so the solution to black teenage unemployment would come by way of the mop and bucket or that, as president, he would have federal judges arrested if they disagreed with his policies. And the media appropriately continues to peel Ron Paul like an onion not only for off-the-wall proposals like doing away with the Federal Reserve, slashing a third of the federal budget and resistance to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but his feeble denial of being involved in racist and anti-Semitic commentary made decades ago in his political newsletters.
New rules imposed by the Republican National Committee will prove to be another determining factor during this election cycle. To avoid “front-loading” of the delegate selection process, the RNC has expanded the number of states using proportional allocation versus the “winner-take-all” method. For example, primaries held during the month of March—including 11-state Super Tuesday on March 6—must “have some element of proportionality,” according to the rules committee. Any state may hold a winner-take-all contest on or after April 1, however.
Against this backdrop, I decided to handicap each candidate’s prospects for gaining the GOP nomination and determine who will be the last candidate standing.
RICK SANTORUM. He’s a dark-horse candidate trying to capitalize on Gingrich’s slip in Iowa polls. Gaining key endorsements from a couple of prominent evangelical conservative organizations and promoting family values in recent ads, he’s banking on emerging among the top three slots in the Jan. 3 contest. He also believes he can appeal to swing-state voters like those from his Pennsylvania home base. However, he will not gain traction in terms of voter excitement or big-bucks financing to be a long-term contender.
Chances for nomination: He’ll be toast after the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary – or sooner.
JON HUNTSMAN: A former Obama Administration employee when he served as Ambassador to China as well as a respected ex-governor of Utah. This smart technocrat may have demonstrated his vast knowledge of foreign affairs in a one-on-one debate with Gingrich—although he was cited by St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact.com as making misstatements on U.S. defense spending levels—and gained an endorsement from a major New Hampshire newspaper as the “consistent conservative” in the Jan. 10 election but missed a major debate in Iowa. Once considered the GOP’s antidote to Obama, he’s been stuck at the basement in voter polling. Another candidate that’s failed to generate excitement, his cash-poor campaign has been propped up by his billionaire industrialist father.
Chances for nomination: Huntsman will not go the distance. In fact, if he has a poor showing in New Hampshire, expect him to close shop the next day.
MICHELE BACHMANN: She generated early buzz—even making the cover of Newsweek magazine in August as “The Queen of Rage”—but flamed out quickly. Her debate performances have had all of the explosive force of a wet firecracker. Trailing badly in the polls, the Iowa native is looking for a fresh message that works: In recent weeks, she’s claimed to be the only “true Christian conservative,” tried to position her rivals as a two-headed monster called “Newt Romney” that’s supportive of ObamaCare and adopted Cain’s common man approach to selling her “Win-Win-Win” economic plan.
Chances for nomination: Nil.
RON PAUL: According to a survey published by Public Policy polling, Paul, who ran for President in 2008, is the front-runner in Iowa, leading by 23% versus Romney at 20% and Gingrich at 11%. In fact, a good number of prognosticators predict that this Tea Party darling will win the Iowa Caucus hands down based on his appeal and enthusiastic organization. Also, his consistent stand against the Iraq War—the only Republican candidate that agreed that Obama took appropriate action in ending the conflict—earned him support from young voters. His radical stance on limited government and controversial statements will not play well in a number of other primary contests though.
Chances for nomination: He will not gain the GOP nod but may emerge as a third-party candidate or Tea Party broker.
RICK PERRY: Support from conservative Republicans put Perry in the race and then strong polling propelled him into a serious contender. But he proved he wasn’t ready for prime time with a series of pitiful debate performances. But he has an ample war chest that exceeds $17 million and he’s replaced policy promotion with an evangelical values message. He may still prove competitive in Southern races, especially with the inclusion of Texas among March 6 Super Tuesday contests. He made the same mistake as Gingrich though: Failure to gain the required 10,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify for the critical Virginia primary. Latest news is that Perry will sue the state of Virginia to get on the ballot.
Chances for nomination: He’ll be headed back to the Lone Star state but his 10-gallon ego will lead him to make another presidential run in the future.
NEWT GINGRICH: With financial and sex scandals derailing his political career in the late 1990s, Gingrich has disproved noted author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-quoted maxim: “There are no second acts in American lives.” In fact, the 68-year old grandfather who uses every opportunity to compare himself to Ronald Reagan was able to parlay his strong debate showing to front-runner status in December with 31% among GOP voters. As a result, he received a fund-raising boost. Now there’s talk that he’s reaching the peak zone. Also, this “verbal bomb thrower,” as he is cast by opponents, can be undone by his own unpredictable nature. (In fact, political observers say Team Obama would be thrilled if he gained the GOP nomination.) Romney has been engaged in some pyrotechnics of his own: His relentlessly attacks to diminish Gingrich’s credibility have started to take its toll. Another disadvantage: poor organization. Possible advantage: Southern exposure.
Chances for nomination: Gingrich will seek to use strategies like a write-in campaign in Virginia to make up for poor infrastructure. It’s highly doubtful he will gain nomination given strong opposition. But expect him to seek a big presence at GOP convention to shape party platform and during the main event in the fall.
MITT ROMNEY: Romney, who was also a 2008 GOP candidate, may have been running for president for the past three years but he receives very little love from conservatives or the GOP at large—he has never come close to 30% in any poll. The establishment views him as the best chance to unseat Obama though. Not considered a hard-line conservative, he has played it extremely safe during this election cycle—not agreeing to be interviewed by major outlets until recent weeks. His strengths: He can build a war chest that would make him competitive in the general election, and his tight organization knows RNC rules and the calculus of delegate selection cold. Also, he has managed to gain key endorsements from notables such as popular South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley—key to gaining an edge in that Jan. 21 contest—and former President George H.W. Bush—better known as No. 41—who is reportedly no fan of Gingrich, the Republican House whip when he was elected in 1988.
Chances of nomination: He will get the nomination by default – no other candidate has the money or organization. But he still will not get much love though.