US Election 2012: The Race Gathers Steam

02 Jan 2012

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On Tuesday, the race for the United States Presidential seat will enter another phase as Rebublican Party contenders for the US presidency converge on Iowa for the first in the series of caucuses and primaries that will lead to the emergence of its presidential flagbearer at the party's national convention  billed to hold in August at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  Tokunbo Adedoja, who has been following the build up to tomorrow's political gathering, writes

With the United States Presidential election just about ten months away, the race for the US topmost politcal office is gradually taking shape.  Even the Republican presidential field which, a couple of months ago, was crowded with names, some with aspirations that were mere speculations, has now been neatly trimmed.

Former Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty, who had even participated in the first three presidential debates, withdrew from the race early, while  Businessman Herman Cain pulled out of the race months later following a string of allegations bordering on sexual harrassment and infidelity.

As at the last count, Republican presidential field has seven notable aspirants - former Governor Mitt Romney, former Speaker Newt Gingrich,  Congresswoman Michele Bachman, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Congressman Ron Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Senator Rick Santorium. There may however be new entrants when the New Hampshire primaries are held next week.

In the last few months, the campaign train of these aspirants berthed in several  key states like Iowa, New Hamshire, Florida and South Carolina to canvass for support to shore up their chances of winning their party's presidential flag. Some of the aspirants also received symbolic endorsements from key party figures and groups.

Between May 5, 2011 when the first 2012 Election Republican Presidential Debate was held and December 15 when the last debate was held for 2011, there had been sixteen other Republican presidential debates, though, the debates of November 5 and December 12, had only Cain and Gingrich, and then Huntsman and Gingrich respectively, as participants.

While many have argued that 18 presidential debates in a spate of seven months were a bit too much,  there are views that inspite of the overwhelming pressure such plethora of debates put on the aspirants, without such debates, it would be difficult for party voters to begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.

While Democratic Party on its part, has not been engaged in any presidential debate, obvioulsly, because its currently occupies the White House, and there is no any known contender for its presidential flag apart from Obama, the endless face-off between the Congress and the White House over the economy, spending cuts, taxes and Jobs bill has however kept debates alive at  that level on issues that would shape this year's election. President Obama even  embarked on a couple of bus tours - which critics have labeled campaign tours - to promote his Jobs bill.

As the race edges into a new phase tomorrow, interestingly, national focus is on the Republican caucuses because the party  parades an array of aspirants seeking to emerge as its candidate at the national convention slated for St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida this August.

But tomorrow, the Iowa Democrats will also be holding their own caucuses at 7pm to reiterate their support for President Obama. Unlike the Republicans,  the 2012 Iowa Democratic caucuses will not see a contested challenge.

A message sponsored by Iowa Democrats states: "On January 3rd, the eyes of the nation will focus on Iowa. Once the results are in, Democrats must be able to show that we’re committed to President Obama’s reelection. Having strong, well-¬run Democratic caucuses will show the nation that we’re ready for what’s ahead.

"We have our work cut out for us: expanding our majority in the Iowa Senate, retaking the Iowa House, electing four Democrats to Congress, and sending President Obama back to the White House for another four years. To accomplish those goals, we need Democrats to take part in the Iowa Caucuses and get involved early on. These goals are attainable, but we need the support of Democrats across the state".

In tomorrow's Iowa Republican caucuses, only six of the seven presidential aspirants will be participating. Huntsman has opted out of Iowa saying he would focus on New Hampshire primary which holds next Tuesday.

The Republican Contenders

Mitt Romney
This 63-year-old Havard graduate and former governor of Massachusetts is a known name in the presidential race having aspired to fly the Republican flag in 2008. Based on his previous shot at the Republican presidential flag, he is believed to have an experienced campaign team with ability to raise funds. Since June 2, 2011, when he formally entered the 2012 Republican race, opinion polls have continued to rate him as a top contender. Infact, he has consistently maintained a slot on top of the poll table except for momentary displacements by Texas Governor Perry, the week he entered the race; Cain, days before he was hit by sexual scandals; former speaker Gingrich, following his sterling performance in debates; and Paul, as the build up to Iowa caucuses gathered steam. 

Romney, who had alway hinged his ability to fix US economy on his private sector background, has received symbolic endorsements from key figures including South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, who has a strong support of  the Tea Party movement, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was tipped as a likely Republican contender, former President George H.W Bush. Romney, a Mormon, may have to contend with socially-conservative evangelical Christian primary voters because of his religious inclination, and Iowa Republicans have a chunk of them. Even at that, many analysts have tipped him as the likely Republican candidate.

Newt Gingrich
This 67-year-old college professor and former Speaker of the US House of Representatives is a known name and face having served as a presiding officer in the Congress. His campaign train suffered some setbacks at the initial stage when some members of the team resigned shortly after he and his wife returned from a cruise in the Greek Isles. Though, a known name, it was not until a couple of weeks ago that his sterling performance at Republican debates pushed him to the top of the poll table. He has however lost that prime slot in the latest poll ahead of Iowa caucuses. 

He could not even qualify for the upcoming Virginia primary ballot because he could not secure the required number of signatures. While some Republicans see him as a good candidate to face Obama in inter-party presidential debates,  with multiple divorces in his matrimonial bag, his personal life and controversy that trailed his speakership of the House are some of  the issues he may have to contend with. No wonder his advice to his campaign team not to engage in vocal  attacks against opponents had been likened to an advice from the occupant of a glass house. Gingrich, who was raised a Lutheran, is a Roman Catholic.

Ron Paul
Congressman Ron Paul from Texas is one of the most popular faces in the race for US presidency, having ran for the same office in 1988 as a Libertarian and then in 2008 as a Republican. The 75-year-old politician, who is the father of Senator Randall Paul, won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February. Paul, who is a physician is viewed as the most conservative of all the aspirants and the one who has the most solid structure on ground in Iowa. Infact, poll had put him ahead of others as a likely winner in Iowa only for him to slip below Romney some days ago. Paul is a Baptist.

Michele Bachmann
This 54-year-old Congresswoman from Minnesota is taking her first shot at the Republican presidential flag but was viewed as a serious contender when she won the Iowa straw poll in August, defeating veteran aspirants like Congressman Paul.  But since then, her campaign has witnessed  series of ups and down. Bachman, the only woman in the Republican race, so far, is a strong supporter of the Tea Party movement and one of the founders of the Tea Party Caucus in the House. Interestingly, a Tea Party group - American Majority - called on her to pull out of the race last October, the same month her New Hamshire campaign staff quits en masse. Even last month, an influential evangelical leader in Iowa  asked Bachmann to pull out of the race in favour of Senator Santorum. And just last Wednesday, her Iowa campaign Chairman, Kent Sorenson, resigned and endorsed Ron Paul. Bachman, a Lutheran, was reported to have withdrew her membership of Salem Lutheran Church shortly before her campaign kicked off in June.

Jon Huntsman
A former US Ambassador to China, who even served under President Obama until his resignation to join the Republican race, is taking his also first shot at the Republican presidential flag. Huntsman, 51, who served as 16th governor of Utah, has concentrated most of his efforts in New Hampshire, where he hope to emerge winner in next week's primary. Like Romney, this former US diplomat is a Mormon. Though he will not be competing in tomorrow's Iowa caucuses, having opted to skip Iowa as far back as June last year, he will still have to contend with socially-conservative evangelical Christian primary voters in other early voting states because of his religious inclination.

Rick Santorum
Fifty-two-year-old Rick Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania, is also taking his first shot at the Republican presidential flag. He is however a known name among Republicans having served as chairman of Senate Republican Conference, making him the third ranking Republican senator between 2001 and 2007. Santorum, a social conservative, has been struggling to climb the poll table since he joined the race. But last Thursday, he received a breakthough as he emerged as one of the top three contenders for Iowa, thereby giving his campaign the desired momentum for a long Republican race. Santorum is a Roman Catholic

Rick Perry
61-year-old Rick Perry is the governor of Texas and one of the contenders that entered the Republican race with a bang. His campaign has since lost its steam following his not-too-impressive performance at Republican debates. At a CNBC debate, Perry had said he would do away with three government agencies if elected president.When asked to list those  three agencies he would want to cut to revamp the Federal Government, he could only list two, despite the ample time given to him to remember the third agency.

While still smarting from that 'brain freeze', he was in the news again when, at a town hall meeting at the Institute of Politics at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm’s College, he erroneously made a statement that suggested that the voting age was 21 instead of 18. At that town hall meeting, he had asked college students who among them would be 21 by November 2012 to support his presidential bid. In fact, when his performance at the debates kept him perpetually at the lower rung of the poll table, Perry resolved to opt out of future debates. He however changed his mind when critics argued that if he could not withstand the Republican debates,  he may not be fit to face Obama - a good public speaker - in an interparty presidential debate should he be the candidate.

All About Iowa Caucuses

The Iowa caucuses are political gatherings where eligible party voters in all Iowa's precincts converge to elect delegates to the 99 county conventions, who, in turn, elect delegates to district and state conventions, where national convention delegates are then selected.

The presidential candidate preferences of the participants at the caucuses are then reflected at the parties national conventions by the national delegates. Hence, the Iowa caucuses are the first major electoral event of the nominating process for presidential flagbearers of political parties in US. Interestingly, the caucus process had been used by Iowans since Iowa became a state in the 1840s, but the caucuses did not attract national attention until 1972.

Although the caucuses are held every two years in public buildings like schools and libraries, and other locations like churches and private residences, those held in a presidential election year like 2012, where presidential preference poll is a major agenda of the caucuses, attract national attention.

Tomorrow's Republican caucuses, which begin at 7pm, will be held in all the 1,774 precincts in Iowa, and in most precincts, the presidential preference poll is a simple, secret-ballot vote whereby participants in the precinct would be given one ballot each  to write down their preferences for presidential nominee.

But before that is done, one representative from each campaign would be given opportunity to speak on behalf of his or her candidate, and after the poll, one volunteer or surrogate from each campaign would be allowed to observe the counting of ballots before results are announced to the caucus attendees and the Iowa GOP.

While the Iowa caucuses could be an early indication of which presidential aspirant might  win their parties' nomination at the national conventions, there are however several instances when candididates that won Iowa failed to clinch the party's flag at national conventions.

Since the 1970s when Iowa caucuses became the first major electoral event of the nominating process for presidential flagbearers of political parties, there had been nine contested Iowa Democratic caucuses and seven contested Iowa Republican caucuses. Only five winners of contested Democratic caucuses and three winners of  contested Republican caucuses had emerged their parties' flagbearers at the national conventions.

For example, in 2008, Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, won the Iowa Republican caucuses but could not win the party's presidential flag at the national convention as he lost to Senator John McCain, who, interestingly, came fourth in Iowa.
Also, in 1988, Senator Bob Dole won the Iowa caucuses, but could not win  the Republican presidential flag at the national convention, which was won by George H.W Bush, who came third in Iowa.  In 1992, Senator Tom Harkin won the Iowa Democratic caucuses but Bill Clinton, who came third, won the party's flag at the national convention.

Jimmy Carter (1980), Walter Mondale (1984), Al Gore (2000), Senator John Kerry (2004), and  Obama (2008) were candidates that won in contested Iowa Democratic caucuses and also emerged as their party's presidential flagbearer at the national convention, while Gerald Ford (1976), Senator Dole (1996) and George W Bush, Jr. (2000), won in contested Iowa Republican caucuses and also won their party's flag at the national convention.

Even though winning Iowa caucuses is not a guarantee for emerging as party presidential flagbearer  at the national conventions, emerging from Iowa as one of the top three contenders could, however, help boost a presidential aspirant's chances of  having a successful shot at his or her party's presidential flag, like it did for Carter's campaign in 1976.

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