Five reasons the GOP race is so unsettled
Among the Republican candidates, Mitt Romney has emerged as the early front-runner. Yet the field remains as uncertain as any in modern times – can any of them beat Obama?
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"There aren't a whole lot of obvious possibilities out there," says William Mayer, an expert on presidential primaries at Northeastern University in Boston. "A good part of that, it seems to me, is that there was a Republican wipeout in '06 and '08, such that they lost a fair number of senators and governors."Skip to next paragraph
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The GOP gained a lot back in 2010, but it's too soon for those newly minted governors and senators to run, says Mr. Mayer, who has in mind people like Governor Christie, Senator Rubio, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. "It won't surprise me if the Republicans have a strong field in '16," says Mayer.
That is, if a Republican doesn't win this time around. Though Obama's reelection is far from guaranteed, especially with the latest spate of discouraging economic numbers, including a boost in unemployment to 9.1 percent. It's Obama's vulnerability that has so many Republicans salivating for a strong nominee and so many deciding to run.
Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Huntsman, the two others with perceived top-tier potential, remain question marks over their ability to attract a significant primary following. Neither has much of a national profile – Gallup has Pawlenty at 6 percent, Huntsman at 2 – though it's early. They have both assembled their core teams, including major fundraisers. The trick for both will be to raise enough money to get their names out. But without much name ID, it may be hard to raise big money.
A rare chance for free national publicity comes on Monday, June 13, with the televised GOP debate in New Hampshire. Seven candidates will take part: Romney, Pawlenty, Cain, Mr. Gingrich (who insists his campaign is still alive), Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Huntsman, Palin, and Giuliani were invited but declined. Huntsman has indicated he will announce his presidential intentions soon after the debate.
The tea party roils New Hampshire
New Hampshire Republicans had a big year in 2010. They elected a new senator and two new House members, and won lopsided control of both houses of the state legislature. State House Republicans elected a tea party favorite as speaker. And in January, the tea party-backed candidate for state GOP chair, Jack Kimball, won an upset victory over the establishment favorite, Juliana Bergeron. If not for the reelection of Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, the GOP sweep would have been complete.
Some state political observers say the rise of the tea party has already affected the nomination race. "I think it contributed to the slow start," says Fergus Cullen, who chaired the state GOP during the 2008 election cycle. "Romney is realizing that this primary electorate is very different from the one he faced four years ago."
Both Romney and Pawlenty understand that tea partyers might be skeptical of quintessential establishment candidates like them, says Mr. Cullen, who sees Pawlenty's rhetoric getting more populist.