GOP Without A Clear Front-Runner For 2012 Race

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For the first time in more than 50 years, the GOP is without a clear front-runner at this stage of the campaign. That's according to a recent Gallup poll. Guest host Linda Wertheimer takes a look at the early contenders with Don Gonyea, NPR's national political correspondent.


The jockeying to be the Republican Party's next presidential nominee has begun. And for the first time in more than 50 years, the GOP is without a clear front-runner at this stage of the campaign. That's according to a recent Gallup poll. A handful of potential 2012 candidates visited key states like New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina this week.

Don Gonyea, NPR's national political correspondent, joins us in our Washington, D.C., studios to talk about some of the early contenders.

Welcome, Don.

DON GONYEA: Thank you. Glad to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Let's start with Mitt Romney. All signs point to a second run for the White House.

GONYEA: He's raising money. Hes rounding up supporters and key operatives. He's doing all the things that people who are running for president do. Frankly, he's been doing all the things people running for president do for years now, almost since the end of the last campaign.

WERTHEIMER: Now, how big a problem is it that when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he passed a big health-care plan - and that, of course, is one of the Republicans' big issues, President Obamas health-care plan?

GONYEA: It was not something he had to deal with four years ago. You remember four years ago, the big question with Romney was, is he really pro-life, or were his social views too moderate for the Republican primary and caucus faithful. And those were the things that dogged him then. This time, it will be that Massachusetts health-care law - kind of a hybrid public-private law that he signed.

The Obama administration and many Democrats like to point out well, that was one of the models for the health-care law that we designed and passed last year. So if he is going to get through Republican primaries, he is going to have to find a good explanation for why he signed that law but opposes the new national health-care law.

Hes been trying that out. He addressed it in a speech this week in New Hampshire.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Governor, Massachusetts): My experience has taught me that states are the place where health-care programs for the uninsured should be crafted, just as the Constitution provides. Obamacare is bad law constitutionally; its bad policy; its bad for American families. And thats one reason why President Obama will be a one-term president.

WERTHEIMER: Something completely different in the line of Republican candidates.

Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, another possibility. What can you tell us about him?

GONYEA: He may be working it harder than any other candidate at this point. And he, too, seems very certain to get in. Hes a two-term governor. He likes to talk about how he is a Republican, a conservative who was elected in a state that has not gone for a Republican in a presidential election since 1972. So he says he can deliver Minnesota, which would be a key thing for a Republican hoping to win the White House.

He has been also out burnishing his credentials as a social conservative. But again, he's been in Iowa a lot; he's been in New Hampshire a lot. Were going to hear something from a speech delivered this week as part of a presidential forum sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. He was appealing to the Tea Party Movement with this.

Mr. TIM PAWLENTY (Former Republican Governor, Minnesota): And we have a problem in Washington, D.C. We have some of the leaders there who believe the enormous, immoral debt in our country doesnt matter. It matters. Just because we followed Greece into democracy does not mean we follow them into bankruptcy.

(Soundbite of applause)

WERTHEIMER: I have to say, that was a clever line. Now, a list of candidates who each bring a sort of special problem to this endeavor: Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, is off to a bit of a bumpy start.

GONYEA: Hes certainly an icon among Republican circles, from his time as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He runs into problems with the social conservatives. He has been married three times. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network this past week, he was asked about that, and his - the infidelities that he has admitted to. His answer was essentially, that his patriotism and that his devotion to his work and his love for this country drove him to do some things that were not appropriate. It...

WERTHEIMER: I'd say that's a hard sell.

GONYEA: It may be a hard sell, particularly in places like the Iowa caucuses, where 60 percent of the voters call themselves - or participants call themselves evangelicals.

WERTHEIMER: What about - just looking down the list - Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? People know who they are. Do you think any of them are really likely to run?

GONYEA: Governor Christie has said several times he's not going to run; he's not ready to run, but people won't seem to let him slam the door shut. Mike Huckabee has a successful television show. He's been on a book tour. He says he's weighing the possibility, but he has also talked about how daunting of a task it would be to take on President Obama. It's not clear he really wants to go through all of that again. And Sarah Palin, it's anybody's guess. It's anybody's guess. It's hard to read the tea leaves there.

WERTHEIMER: So when are hats really going to be thrown into the ring? When is it going to happen?

GONYEA: Well start seeing it in the weeks ahead. Well have some - though nobody has scheduled a date yet - next month. And then once one or two are in, the rest will have to follow pretty quickly. But right now, everybody seems to be - somebody described it as like the horses being led to the gate at the Kentucky Derby. They kind of are reluctant to step in, and they are looking sideways and seeing what everybody else is doing. We've got a lot of that going on right now.

WERTHEIMER: Don Gonyea is NPR's national political correspondent, speaking with us in our Washington studios.

Don, thank you for coming in.

GONYEA: Lots to come on this story. Thank you.

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