They have polished their resumes for the past year, now we are hours away from caucus time in Iowa. Early interest in Pawlenty, Palin and Cain has waned and we are down to seven: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. As of Friday, December 30th, Mitt Romney is in the lead, but no caucus ballots have been submitted.
Mitt Romney is the favorite of much of national and Iowa political leaders. His greatest grace is having served as a Republican governor of liberal Massachusetts. Romney can make the claim of not being a career politician, having been an executive in the auto industry and having “saved the Olympics”. Republican regulars in Iowa see him as someone who can beat Barack Obama in November.
He does have some baggage that will cause some problems on Tuesday night. The greatest challenge is Romney-care in Massachusetts. The thing that brought him to prominence in the Republican Party is his greatest weakness. The program makes good sense from a business perspective, force everyone into the healthcare system, and stimulate competition among insurance providers and lower costs. A viable National Healthcare program would no doubt be a boon to business. In the last four years, we have lost auto industry jobs to Canada, in part, because Canada has a national healthcare program that takes insurance off the back of businesses.
The libertarian wing of the Republican Party does not like the healthcare mandate aspect of Romney/Obama-care. This is the biggest weakness for Romney. Other issues that will hinder him are lack of appeal to the blue-collar Republicans. Many former Reagan democrats who have remained in the Republican Party did not look positively at Romney’s lack of understanding of Medicare/ Medicaid. Evangelicals still have questions about Romney’s Mormon faith.
Newt Gingrich has gone up and down in the polls a number of times over this campaign season. Coming out of the Sioux City debate, he was considered the top runner at that time. Gingrich has a load of experience in the House of Representatives. He proved himself to be effective in getting legislation through the House under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. His strength is his experience and connections with Republicans throughout Iowa. His weaknesses are many.
Gingrich is the poster-child for America’s lack of political ethics in the past several decades. He originally ran as an outsider, but over the years he has enriched himself through the revolving door between government and private enterprise. Gingrich also has his problems with Iowa evangelicals over his numerous divorces. Overall, Gingrich is not as popular with the main stream Republicans as Romney, but he is a good substitute if Romney falters.
Ron Paul is the real wild card of the race. He is very popular with young voters because of his isolationism and his stance on decriminalizing drugs. While this has created a loyal base among the young and the libertarians, it puts him at cross purposes with traditional Republicans and evangelicals a like. While Paul has a popular following, he doesn’t have a bloc demographic voting block. Added to that Paul often comes off goofy in interviews and debates. Even if he wins Iowa, he is a more likely candidate for the Libertarian Party than for the Republican Party nomination.
Rick Santorum is the surge candidate as of late. He has solid evangelical credentials and has chosen to put a good deal of money into Michele Bachmann’s backyard. Santorum has a good deal of appeal not only to evangelicals, but the blue-collar Republicans. If anyone is a real surprise in Iowa, it will be Rick Santorum.
Michele Bachmann played the native daughter card in Iowa. She was born in Iowa and won the Ames straw poll, but she did not make much hay with the win. She has not drawn large crowds in her rallies. Her only real strength is among evangelicals. She seems to be genuine and passionate in her religious speak and she is popular with the pro-life and the pro-family voters. She is popular with Tea Party people, but comes across as harsh to the general voting public.
Rick Perry started his race for the presidency with a religious revival for America just prior to the Ames Straw Poll. Much of his early support came from evangelicals and he continues to have the most support from evangelicals. Perry has a folksy style that works in radio interviews, but he has never done well in debates. In the final debate in Sioux City, Perry sounded too much like a high school quarterback who was hit in the head too many times.
Finally, Jon Huntsman is probably the greatest statesman of the race and the most qualified to be president has not gained any traction in Iowa. The fact that Huntsman has gained so little traction in this year is one of the reasons that I am glad I am an independent living in Nebraska.
If there is a surprise at the caucuses Tuesday night, look for Rick Santorum to finish in the top three when the evening is over.