GOP primary field heats up as key candidates announce decisions

Scott Macdonald

The race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is heating up. Many candidates have announced their candidacies or the formation of exploratory committees. Some have even have begun touring leadoff states.

Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said that the Republican presidential landscape is still a “wide-open field.” However, Dave Peterson, associate professor of political science at Iowa State, feels that it is a “two-person race” between Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

Peterson and Bystrom gave their input on the current candidates, those expecting to announce soon and some of those who have bowed out of consideration:

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts:

Announced April 11 that he had formed an exploratory committee.

Bystrom calls Romney “the strongest national candidate,” citing his “personal wealth and fundraising ability.”

Peterson cites “his shifting of positions on social issues” as a bigger turn-off for social conservatives than his faith. “[Mormonism] is not what’s going to break him,” Peterson said. “A larger portion of the Republican Party just doesn’t trust him.”

Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota:

Announced on May 23 that he will run.

“No one doesn’t like him,” Peterson said, pointing out Pawlenty’s seven-to-one favorable rating from voters who are familiar with him. “‘I don’t know you’ is better than ‘I don’t like you.’ He doesn’t have a lot of recognition, which is okay, because there’s a long time to go.”

Bystrom agrees with the conventional wisdom about Pawlenty’s favorability. “He has an interesting story that is doing well in Iowa,” she said.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House:

Announced on May 11 that he will run.

Gingrich’s tour of Iowa last week was not a big success. Bystrom points out that he has attracted the support of top Iowa Republicans such as House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer. She said, however, that Gingrich “tripped on his tongue out of the gate.”

Herman Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO:

Announced on May 21 that he will run.

“No one should take Herman Cain seriously,” Peterson said, equating him with fellow billionaire and two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes.

Ron Paul, U.S. representative from Texas:

Announced on May 13 that he will run.

“Paul gets a lot of attention and a lot of money,” Peterson said, “but two-thirds of the party won’t vote for him. There’s a very narrow range [that will].”

Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah:

Has indicated that he will announce a decision in June.

Peterson indicated that Huntsman’s status as “relatively moderate” will turn off Iowa conservatives. He also said that “taking on the face of U.S. policy in China won’t matter” to most voters, but might strike a chord with South Carolinans who are losing jobs to outsourcing.

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska:

Has indicated that she has “the fire in my belly” to run but has not announced anything.

Bystrom believes that Palin “could win Iowa” and, in fact, “could end up with the nomination.”

But she also said that Palin was polarizing, in the same way that Hillary Clinton was in 2008.

“Some people really, really like her,” Bystrom said, “But a lot of people really don’t like her.”

Michele Bachmann, U.S. Representative from Minnesota:

Has announced her intention to form an exploratory committee.

Bystrom thinks Bachmann could be “a dark-horse candidate” with appeal to social conservatives.

Peterson disagrees.

“Bachmann is not running for president,” he said. “She is running for chief GOP spokesman. She has no chance of winning.”

Donald Trump, businessman and TV personality:

Announced on May 16 that he will not run.

“I’m not sure if Trump was in it to win it,” Bystrom said. “He’s not really suited for politics.”

Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana:

Announced on May 22 that he will not run.

“Daniels was recruited by Republicans as someone who was a fiscal conservative, a successful governor,” Brystrom said.

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and winner of 2008 GOP caucus:

Announced on May 14 that he will not run.

Bystrom says that Huckabee’s strategy worked out well in 2008. “Huckabee won Iowa in a really unconventional manner. He used the [2007 Ames] straw poll,” Bystrom said. “Romney had his air-conditioned tent and Hickory Park catering, but Huckabee played his guitar and gave out watermelon. It was a very down-home campaign.”

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey:

Has said repeatedly that he will not run, but a group of Iowa businessmen are traveling to New Jersey to attempt to convince him.

Peterson calls Christie “gregarious,” but notes that he has never proven himself against a popular incumbent in an election.