GOP Presidential Field Begins To Take Shape After a slow — some might say hesitant — start, there are signs that the field of Republican hopefuls for the 2012 presidential nomination is beginning to take a more definitive shape. That includes moves by two of the biggest names in the running: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who officially gets into the race Wednesday, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who plans a major speech on the topic of health care Thursday. NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea talks to Melissa Block about the 2012 presidential election — and the field of Republicans assembling to run against President Obama.
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GOP Presidential Field Begins To Take Shape

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GOP Presidential Field Begins To Take Shape

GOP Presidential Field Begins To Take Shape

GOP Presidential Field Begins To Take Shape

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After a slow — some might say hesitant — start, there are signs that the field of Republican hopefuls for the 2012 presidential nomination is beginning to take a more definitive shape. That includes moves by two of the biggest names in the running: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who officially gets into the race Wednesday, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who plans a major speech on the topic of health care Thursday. NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea talks to Melissa Block about the 2012 presidential election — and the field of Republicans assembling to run against President Obama.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

After a slow, some might say hesitant, start, there are signs that the field of Republican presidential hopefuls is finally beginning to take shape.

That includes moves by two of the biggest names in the running: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich officially jumped into the race today with a message to his followers on Twitter; and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is planning a major speech on the topic of health care tomorrow.

Joining us to talk about the field is our national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA: Greetings.

BLOCK: And let's start with Mitt Romney. He announced his exploratory committee one month ago today and then pretty much dropped out of sight. What's his strategy here?

GONYEA: He's running kind of a frontrunner's strategy, though we don't want to overstate the degree to which he is the frontrunner because the polls are very close, and he's not running away with anything.

Right now, he's focusing on two things, neither of which is very visible. He's raising money, and he is doing very well with that, especially Wall Street, and he is getting his organization in place in all of the key states.

His absence was notable last week in that first Republican presidential debate. It was in South Carolina. There were five people on the stage, all of them drawing single digits in the polls. He just saw no upside to going there, getting beaten up and having all sides coming after him on that stage.

BLOCK: And what about the speech on health care tomorrow in Ann Arbor? He has been, Mitt Romney has been criticized by others in the GOP, including his potential opponents, for the health care law that he signed a governor of Massachusetts, which is often cited as the model for President Obama's national health care law.

GONYEA: Well, it's a speech he has to give. And he's giving it pretty early in the campaign. If he doesn't give a speech like this and do well with it, it's an issue that could haunt him all year. And it might anyway.

What he's going to try to do is change the subject to what he will do as president on health care, without dwelling on those comparisons between what the Massachusetts plan does and what the national health care plan does and how they are similar.

He does say that the law he calls Obamacare should be repealed. But we got a little preview of what he might say tomorrow, though this might be a little more fiery than he'll be at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

But in Las Vegas last month, he talked about how he would take the president on, on health care.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): He does me the great favor of saying that I was the inspiration for his plan. I'll say: If that's the case, why didn't you call me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Former Gov. ROMNEY: Why didn't you ask what was wrong? Why didn't you ask if this was an experiment, what worked and what didn't? And I'd have told him: And I know what you're doing, Mr. President, is going to bankrupt us. We can't spend more money. Even if Obamacare were perfect, and it's not, we can't spend more money at the federal government level.

GONYEA: Here's the key though: He's talking there about debating President Obama. He's got to get through the primaries and all of his Republican challengers first.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about one of them, then, Newt Gingrich, who got into the race today with a tweet. A lot of name recognition, of course, also, though, a lot of baggage.

GONYEA: Right, and that is the question. He's a very prominent figure, but he hasn't held office since 1999. That's a long time ago. We didn't have BlackBerrys. We didn't have Twitter, which is how he announced his candidacy today.

Then there are his admissions of marital infidelity. He has been married three times. But he is one of those big thinkers in the Republican world. And people like him for that. But again, he's going to have to balance one thing against another, and we'll probably know relatively soon how it's shaping up for him.

BLOCK: And briefly, Don, what about some of those who are still waiting in the wings?

GONYEA: Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Governor - former Governor Mike Huckabee are the ones that are the potential game-changers. Again, Governor Daniels, a very serious fiscal conservative. He's the one who said we need to focus on the economy. We can't get bogged down in internal Republican fights on social issues. He's gotten some criticism for that.

Mike Huckabee won Iowa last time. He's very popular, very likable. We don't know what either of them is going to do at this point.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks so much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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