GOP presidential candidates at a debate on the economy, Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, Oct. 11, 2011.
GOP presidential candidates at a debate on the economy, Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, Oct. 11, 2011.
We're less than three months before the voters begin to have their say as to who will be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, but here's what we know thus far. Or what we think we know.
The race has always been about Mitt Romney. You either want him, or you want someone else. There have been an assortment of "someone elses" over the past few months, but none with any apparent staying power. Michele Bachmann entered the race with a bang, but the moment of her highest achievement — victory in the Ames, Iowa straw poll in August — came on the same day Rick Perry entered the race. Nobody has seen Bachmann since.
Perry has been winning statewide in Texas for more than two decades. He is the longest serving governor in state history and the longest continuous serving in the country today. He is a ferocious campaigner, employs a take-no-prisoners bravado and has a proven ability to raise tons of money.
And he is making sure that plenty of it will be directed at producing anti-Romney commercials. But all the money in the world — and he raised $17 million the last quarter — is not going to make up for what has been a series of less-than-impressive (to be gentle) performances in the last four debates. He has seemed woefully unprepared and inarticulate; witness this attempted sortie from the recent Fox News/Google debate (start the video at 1:30 in).
I thought the most recent debate, last week's Bloomberg/Washington Post affair that few were able to watch, was Perry's worst yet. Here's why. In the previous three, he was warned that he needed to pick up his game and be more certain of his facts. Yet for much of the debate he was an almost marginal, incidental bystander, with much of the attention directed at the new hero, Herman Cain. Asked to describe his plan to create jobs, Perry said it's all part of his energy policy. Asked to describe his energy policy, he said he was not going to. (He unveiled it in a speech days later in Pennsylvania.)
Perry is still trying to defend himself from the ire of conservatives over his positions on education benefits for the children of illegal immigrants and a mandatory vaccine that would protect sixth-grade girls from a sexually transmitted disease. And it is still too soon to say whether the outburst by one of his supporters, a Texas pastor by the name of Robert Jeffress — who called the Mormon Church a "cult" and said Romney "is not a Christian" — will be the kind of albatross for Perry the way the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was for Barack Obama during parts of the 2008 campaign. But it's hard to see how it helps him.
As Perry has begun to show that he may not be ready for prime time, entreaties to other would-be candidates went out. The thought of Chris Christie being the answer to conservative prayers always felt a bit far-fetched, given his views on such issues as gun control, civil unions and climate control. Perhaps it was just one indication of how far the Anybody but Romney crowd would go.
Apparently they're still looking. As for Cain, yes, he's an inspiring speaker, with a booming voice and great charisma. But on more than a few occasions, let's face it, he sounds naive and uninformed on many issues. His 9-9-9 economic plan, dismissed by many experts, could be disastrous for him in a state like New Hampshire, which has no sales tax. When told the plan could shift the tax burden to the middle class and away from the wealthy, Cain says, simply, that is "inaccurate," or the criticism is "wrong," that his "experts" insist it will work. When asked during last week's debate to name his favorite Fed chair of the past 40 years, he named Alan Greenspan, who, shall we say, completely missed the rapid decline of the economy during the latter years of the Bush administration. Conservatives and liberals alike agree on that one.
Cain has shown even less understanding when it comes to foreign policy. He has called for an electrified barbed-wire fence between the U.S. and Mexico and the building of an alligator-filled moat, suggesting the addition of military troops "with real guns and real bullets for part of it." How to deal with Iran? "The U.S. has warships equipped with ballistic missile defense capability. We're going to strategically place them in the right parts of the world, and then just wait for somebody to attack our friends or try to attack us."
Guess what? In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Cain leads the GOP field with 27%.
Not surprisingly, this focus on Cain, this search for something/someone "new," has limited the coverage and hurt the chances of the other candidates still in the race: Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and two who don't even register enough in the polls to make it in the debates, former Govs. Gary Johnson (N.M.) and Buddy Roemer (La.). It's hard to get voters to listen to you when the media won't.
The irony of all this is while Republican voters still seem unsold on Romney — his poll numbers have remained basically the same throughout all the Bachmann, Perry, Christie and Cain surges — the White House has made it clear they fear Romney the most. David Axelrod, the Obama senior strategist, held a conference call last week specifically to single out Romney as inconsistent on the issues and a "flip-flopper" — a criticism first made of Romney during his 2008 bid, to great effect. (Axelrod was a guest on Sunday's This Week on ABC, where he was asked the predictable questions about Romney and gave the predictable answers.)
The flip-flopping charge is valid and remains a potential albatross, as does the health-care bill he pushed through in Massachusetts. If, after all the flirtations have come and gone, Romney was suddenly pulling away in the GOP polls, that would be one thing. But he's not. And Perry is likely to raise the kind of money that his non-Romney rivals won't begin to approach. So for that reason alone, writing Perry's political obituary would be premature. Even if I do think his debate performances have been abysmal.
Oh, there's also the voters. They don't weigh in for another two and a half months.
The Dating Game. To no one's surprise, the move by Florida to advance its presidential primary date to Jan. 31, 2012 has had a domino effect on the entire calendar. But when Nevada announced its caucuses would now be held on Jan. 14 — a week before South Carolina's primary and, more important, just four days after a possible New Hampshire date — that was too much for N.H. Secretary of State William Gardner, who notes that Nevada's caucus date is in violation of N.H. state law, which demands the next succeeding voting event take place at least seven days afterwards. Gardner, who has been zealously protecting N.H.'s position since 1976, says that if the Silver State's date won't move back at least three days, then he could send N.H. voters to the polls as early as December.
Most of the GOP candidates have lined up with Gardner, vowing to boycott Nevada should it insist on the Jan. 14 date. Jon Huntsman led the way, saying not only will he bypass the caucuses out of respect to N.H. — where he is basing most of his campaign — but he won't appear at the CNN debate in Nevada on Tuesday (Oct. 18). Also promising to boycott the caucuses (though not the debate): Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, all hoping the gesture would get favorable notices in New Hampshire.
But there's another angle to the story.
Nevada, with its sizable Mormon population, has long been seen as friendly to Mitt Romney's chances, and it was no secret that Romney's forces were behind Nevada moving its date up, hoping it would give the former Mass. governor an early boost. By pulling out of Nevada, these candidates could end up making the state's caucuses a meaningless exercise and rob Romney of a headline grabbing victory.
Prediction: Nevada blinks. It will move its caucuses later in January, perhaps the 17th, closer to South Carolina.
Here's another date. Our friends at Oregon Public Radio are part of a team producing a GOP debate on — ready for this? — March 19 at 6 pm PT. (NPR will provide a journalist for the panel of moderators.) OK, so when was the last time the battle for the Republican nomination was really alive and well on March 19? 1980.
How's Bayou. Don't be surprised if you didn't realize that this Saturday (Oct. 22) is the date of the Louisiana gubernatorial election. Apparently, not many people in Louisiana have either. This is the state's least competitive gov. race in memory, with all indications showing Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) en route to a smashing re-election victory. What's most remarkable is that there isn't even a sanctioned Democratic candidate in the race. Oh, others will be on the ballot, but none with any money or political standing to speak of. Equally remarkable is that no Democrats have filed for any statewide office as well. So along with Jindal's landslide victory on Saturday, the things to watch on the ballot will be battles among Republicans only for the other top positions. (Runoffs, if necessary, come Nov. 19.) This is a stunning turnaround in a state that didn't elect a Republican to the governorship post-Reconstruction until 1979 or to the Senate until 2004.
The good news for Democrats? Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) isn't up until 2014.
Candidates 2012. The Hawaii Republican Party got its dream candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka (D). It's Linda Lingle, the former two-term governor, whose candidacy gives the GOP their first shot at winning a Senate seat in the Aloha State since Hiram Fong won a third term in 1970. Democrats trying to hold Akaka's seat include Rep. Mazie Hurono and ex-Rep. Ed Case. ... Samuel Wurzelbacher, dubbed "Joe the Plumber" during the 2008 presidential campaign as a fighter for the middle class, files to run as a Republican in Ohio's 9th CD. It's the seat where two longtime Democratic incumbents, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, are running against each other in the May primary ... With Elizabeth Warren looking strong in her bid for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat currently held by GOP incumbent Scott Brown, two Democrats have dropped out of the contest: activist Bob Massie and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.
Political Updates. I will post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
Two questions from the mailbag:
Q: Did I understand correctly on the last podcast that delegates will be awarded proportionally rather than winner-takes-all in all the GOP primary states? That seems rather huge! I remember, as a Clinton-ite, how much that affected the 2008 Democratic primary, where even in states that Hillary *won*, Obama ended up winning almost as many delegates. If this is true for the GOP this year (and why was the change made??), that means there will be ACTUAL Paul or Cain or Bachmann delegates running around in Tampa in 2012. — Phillip Gilfus, Fayetteville, N.C.
A: It's true. Part of the reason was that while Republicans — in their familiar winner-take-all way — ended their nomination battle in 2008 earlier than ever before, the Democratic fight between Obama and Clinton went on until well into June ... capturing all the media attention, exciting the voters, and suddenly making long-forgotten states play an important role in the process. I mean, who was paying attention to John McCain in the spring of '08? The new rule allowing GOP delegates to be awarded based on the candidates' proportion of the vote pertains only to primaries and caucuses that are held before April. After that, it's back to winner-take-all. There's still no guarantee that the race will go on beyond April. But the rule change has the potential to make it more interesting.
Q: Has there ever been a president elected straight from the House, as Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul are trying to do? — Anne Bowline, Casper, Wyo.
A: Just one: James Garfield of Ohio. In the House for 17 years, Garfield had actually been elected to the Senate early in 1880 but had not taken the seat by the time the Republican convention opened in Chicago. As it turned out, the GOP delegates were split, with Garfield, a dark horse, winning the nomination on the 36th ballot. He went on to defeat the Democratic candidate, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, a Civil War hero, in November. Inaugurated on March 4, 1881, Garfield was shot in the back on July 2 by a disgruntled job-seeker, Charles Guiteau, and he died on Sept. 19.
Podcast. There is a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. Latest episode: the rise of Herman Cain, the encroaching primary and caucus calendar, and the GOP gets a boost in the Hawaii Senate race. You can listen to it below.
Oct. 13 podcast
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Wednesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter the current contest. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Alas, I missed last week's show, an omission that will not be repeated this week.
What Gets America Angry Dept. As I travel around this great land of ours, the complaints I hear from people is that everyone is tired of inauthenticity. In that regard, imagine how horrified we all were with the cover of the Sept. 25 Parade magazine that shows actor George Clooney in a suit wearing nearly two dozen campaign buttons — most of which are fakes and replicas. At least seven are copies of older campaign buttons made by the Kleenex company (such as the FDR, Truman and Wilson buttons), two are McGovern-Eagleton items of suspicious origin (e.g., made after Eagleton left the '72 Dem ticket), and others are just complete fantasies.
Here's Something You May Not Have Known. Nancy Shevell, who wed former Beatle Paul McCartney on Oct. 9, was once married to Bruce Blakeman, who came in third in the 2010 GOP primary for a Senate seat in New York. Of course, this is not nearly as interesting as the fact that Kitty Dickson, the first wife of the father of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), later married (and is still married to) Michael Dukakis.
The Daley News. I didn't see it until it appeared in the Washington Post obituaries this week: Steve Daley, the former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, died Oct. 2. He was 62 years old. During my years (1983-91) at ABC News, I often found myself listening to Steve, a big, funny, grizzled kind of guy who would entertain anyone who'd listen with the greatest and wildest stories about the men and women who made up the world of politics. Whether on the campaign trail or on Capitol Hill, I was privileged to be Steve's friend, to learn from him and share experiences. He was irreverent and sharp, a true cut up, but rarely cynical and never nasty. I hadn't seen him in years; I left ABC and covering the halls of Congress in 1991 when I came to NPR, and Steve left the Tribune to enter the world of public relations in 1996. But when I think of journalists who made my job memorable and fun, I will always think of Steve Daley.
Also gone: Albert Rosellini, a former two-term governor of Washington, died Oct. 10 at the age of 101. Rosellini, a Democrat, was elected governor in 1956 and re-elected four years later. During his tenure he vastly improved the state's woeful prison system and made major advances in transportation and infrastructure. But he was defeated for a third term in 1964 by Dan Evans (R), who accused Rosellini of "illegally obtained" campaign funds. Rosellini tried again eight years later, but again lost to Evans ...Richard Mallary, 82, a Vermont Republican who served three years in the House before giving up his seat for an unsuccessful run for the Senate, died on Sept. 27. Mallary won a special House seat in 1971 to succeed Robert Stafford (R), who was appointed to the Senate, and served in Congress until 1974, when he lost an open Senate race to Pat Leahy. Leahy, who still serves, became the first Democrat ever to win a Senate race in Vermont ...the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, 89, a longtime civil rights leader who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and who survived beatings and bombings in his native Alabama, on Oct. 5. ... Franklin Kameny, 86, who for a half-century was a tireless backer of gay and lesbian rights and a leader in the cause, on Oct. 11. In his one foray into elective politics, Kameny lost a bid for D.C. congressional delegate in 1971 ... Kenneth Dahlberg, 94, a Minnesota businessman and Midwest finance coordinator for the Committee for the Re-election of the President, on Oct. 4. Dahlberg's 1972 check to the Nixon campaign wound up in the bank account of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker — a sequence that led to the resignation of President Nixon. Dahlberg was also the deputy fundraising chair for 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
ON THE CALENDAR:
Oct. 18 — GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, 8 pm ET (CNN).
Oct. 22 — Louisiana gubernatorial election, where Bobby Jindal (R) is seeking a second term.
Nov. 8 — Election Day. Also: primaries in Oregon's 1st CD (to succeed David Wu, D).
Nov. 9 — GOP presidential debate in Rochester, Mich., 8 pm ET (CNBC).
Nov. 10 — GOP debate, Exeter, N.H.
Nov. 19 — GOP candidate forum, Des Moines. Also: Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Des Moines.
Dec. 7 — Virginia Senate debate, Univ/VA at Charlottesville.
Dec. 10 — GOP debate, Des Moines (ABC News).
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at email@example.com.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in political history: Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, President Gerald Ford says that no deals were made between himself and his predecessor, Richard Nixon, regarding his Sept. 8 pardoning of the former president for crimes committed during the Watergate scandal. It is the first time in history a sitting president has formally testified before a congressional committee (Oct. 17, 1974).