Republican front-runners remain unclear

Addie Olson

With visits from Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump, among others, Iowans are getting their first taste of who might be running against President Obama in the 2012 election.

Although the list of potential GOP candidates is extensive at this point, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is the only official candidate so far. He announced his launch of a 2012 presidential exploratory committee Monday.

Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said Pawlenty could be a front-runner among student voters.

“Right now I would guess that Pawlenty, Huckabee and Bachmann will all play well toward the college crowd,” she said.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are also both potential candidates for 2012. Bystrom believes students would relate well to those candidates youthful demeanors.

In addition to young voters, Huckabee appealed to the rest of the state when he won the Iowa Republican Caucuses in 2008, which Bystrom feels he could do again.

“The social conservative candidates play the best in Iowa in the Republican party overall,” Bystrom said. “Some of the polls have shown that right now Mike Huckabee would still be the front-runner in Iowa.”

Another popular name on the potential republican roster is that of Mitt Romney, who finished close behind McCain and Huckabee in 2008. The former Massachusetts governor is recognized for his more moderate stance on social issues, which would likely give Republicans the best chance of winning in 2012.

“It’s very hard to unseat an incumbent president,” Bystrom said. “It does happen, but it doesn’t happen very often; it would certainly take a more moderate candidate.”

Another quality that will be sought after in the Republican nominee is a strong economic background. The GOP will be searching for someone who is fiscally conservative and looking to reform the economy.

One presidential hopeful who offers to do just that is Trump. The entrepreneur and reality show personality has already scheduled another visit to Iowa for June.

“You can kind of gauge interest by seeing who’s coming to Iowa because we are an early test of presidential candidate strength,” Bystrom said.

She feels Trump could be seen as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.

“It’s interesting to see Donald Trump; we have this anti-politician mood in the country and he doesn’t come from politics, he comes from business,” she said. “People might pay attention to him if he has some good ideas about fixing the economy.”

Other well-known politicians expected to make a run for the White House in 2012 include Tea Party supporter Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

James Hutter, associate professor in political science, thinks we can dismiss these names all together.

“I would say the nominee of the Republican Party in 2012 is not someone that we are focusing on today,” Hutter said. ” It’s going to be something of an unknown.”

“It’s going to be someone who is kind of off the radar. What we’re looking for right now is the last man standing.”

Somewhat less popular names at this point are those of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

It is hard to say at this point whether or not more possible candidates will emerge. Regardless of who receives the nomination, the real challenge will be unseating Obama.

“Incumbents win 90 percent of the time,” Bystrom said.

Hutter also recognized that the hesitation of potential opponents could be due to the fact that incumbents are difficult to unseat.

“I think most Republicans are pretty aware that Obama’s almost sure to be re-elected,” Hutter said.

Another reason for the hesitation of possible candidates to make their official bid for the Republican nomination could be the unsteady political climate.

“It’s still very tough times,” Bystrom said. “We have major problems at home with domestic issues, and we have major problems abroad with international turmoil; it’s a hard climate to run in.”

Iowa will likely see an increasing number of visits by presidential hopefuls in the coming months as more announce their official candidacies.