US PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS from the Republican party face the fist test of strength in tonight’s Iowa caucus but who are the candidates in the running? TheJournal.ie takes a look…
It has been widely-acknowledged as one of the most fluid races for the Republican nomination since they began. Indeed over the weekend, the polling organisation Gallup said it had been “the most volatile Republican nomination contest” since such races were tracked by polling companies.
While for large parts, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has led the way, Republican voters appear unconvinced by a man who failed to win the nomination four years ago and have at times switched their preference to others in the race.
At some point over the last few months, Texas governor Rick Perry, former pizza magnate Herman Cain, and former House Speaker New Gingrich have led the national polls but debate performances, sexual harassment allegations and ties to lobbyists respectively have undermined their chances. Cain has already stepped out of the race.
In the end it might be last man (or woman) standing. But what do we know about the six men and one woman who want to face Barack Obama in the main presidential election later this year?
In no particular order here are some of they cringe-worthy ads and a few things you should probably know about the candidates:
- Before entering politics, Romney ran the management consulting company Bain Capital, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and then became Governor of Massachusetts. He failed to win the Republican nomination in 2008, pouring millions into his campaign but coming off second best to John McCain.
- Romney has championed his business credentials saying that they are what is needed to fix America’s economy. Figures show that over $1 million dollars has been given to his campaign from banks and other financial institutions.
- His Mormon religion is a cause for concern among some Republican voters, many of whom are evangelical Christians. Romney has shied away from talking about it on the campaign trail but his history is steeped in it having served a ward bishop for his church in Massachusetts.
- He has a reputation as a “flip-flopper” who has changed policy positions for political expediency. On abortion, he was pro-choice, he now opposes it. There have also been questions about his past views on gun-rights, a key issue for conservatives.
- Healthcare may prove troublesome for Romney. He opposes the federal health care law introduced by Obama yet it was modelled partly on Romney’s own universal healthcare achievements while Governor of Massachusetts. He argues that states and not central government should determine what healthcare model works best.
- A former congressman for Georgia and Speaker of the House of Representatives – the most powerful position a US politician can hold outside of the presidency and vice presidency – Gingrich was the chief opponent of Bill Clinton during his presidency in the 90s.
- Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’ was key to his success in the mid-nineties as the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 46 years. The budget impasses, similar to what we saw last year, led to the US government actually shutting down twice but it would eventually lead to a compromised, balanced-budget being pushed through.
- His marital infidelities have not sat well with some voters. He has been married three times and cheated on his second wife with his third whom he was seeing during a time when he was castigating President Clinton for his own infidelities with Monica Lewinsky.
- On the issues, Gingrich is a solid conservative wanting, amongst other policies, to shrink the Department of Education, cut corporation tax to our own rate of 12.5 per cent and continue to keep Guantanamo Bay open.
- He surged in the polls towards the end of last year having originally been written off in the summer but his credibility has been badly damaged by a series of scathing ads released by a political action committee with links to the Romney campaign. This has been widely seen as the key reason for his drop in the polls, particularly in Iowa.
- Bachmann has been a Congresswoman for Minnesota for the past five years and her presidential run has surprised many. A former tax attorney, she is a supporter of the Tea Party movement.
- She has a strong evangelical faith and has fostered 23 children. Her husband runs a Christian counselling service which reportedly claims to “cure” homosexuals.
- As a Tea Party favourite, she is in favour of cutting government spending and has outlined one way of creating jobs as taking the 100,000 employment opportunities American companies have created in Ireland and bringing them back to the US.
- She created considerable buzz when she won the Iowa straw poll in August, indicating she had a strong operation on the ground. However more recent reports have indicated that her operation is threadbare and lacks funds, an indication that she is unlikely to do well in Iowa or anywhere else.
- Her poll numbers have steadily declined since the summer as a series of stories have seemingly discredited her candidacy including an old lecture from 2004 in which she reportedly said homosexuality is a “sexual dysfunction”.
- A former lawyer and US Senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum has also worked as a contributor to Fox News and is widely viewed as a rock solid social and religious conservative.
- A Catholic and father-of seven, he is staunchly conservative on social issues such as abortion, contraception and stem-cell research – he is against all of them.
- His views on homosexuality have caused controversy and have drawn the ire of liberals who conducted an internet campaign to come up with a new definition for the word ‘Santorum’ – a graphic, sexually-related definition which still appears at the top of Google searches for that word.
- Santorum had drawn little attention through most of the campaign but in recent weeks he has surged in polls. The latest Des Moines Register newspaper poll in Iowa saw him leapfrog other candidates into third place with the numbers showing a surge to second place in the final two days of polling.
- He is proposing a zero corporate tax rate and would seek to starve Obama’s health care law of the funding it would need. A foreign policy hawk, he believes that troops should have stayed in Iraq and that the draw down from Afghanistan should happen a little slower than being proposed by the current administration.
- Huntsman is a former Governor of Utah and has served in four different White House administrations. His candidacy is most interesting perhaps for the fact that up until April of last year, he was the Obama-appointed US ambassador to China.
- He has close ties to the family business, the Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company with multi-billion dollar revenues and his deep-pockets could be advantageous to him sustaining a lengthy campaign.
- However, his poll numbers have never risen into double figures, primarily because of his ties to Obama. He is also a believer in evolution and “trusts scientists on global warming” – not something that has gone down well with many Republican voters.
- He is anti-abortion and pro-business (cutting regulation, lowering taxes) but proposals to cut the defence budget and support for same-sex marriage will not endear him to some in the conservative movement.
- His daughters are conducting an active and hard-fought campaign on behalf of their dad on the Twitter machine with @Jon2012girls making a spoof video of one-time candidate Herman Cain’s infamous campaign ad and releasing their own version of a Justin Timberlake song where they vowed to bring “Huntsman Back.”
- A former air corp pilot and gynaecologist, the 76-year-old has been a long-serving Congressman for Texas. His libertarian views have seen him relegated to the fringes of the Republican party, though his anti-war policies have drawn considerable support from younger voters in recent months.
- He ran for president as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988, getting on the ballot in 46 states and winning 0.5 per cent of the popular vote nationally. He also ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 but failed to get out of single figures.
- He is most notable for his foreign policy views which are a sharp departure from other candidates. He favours cutting the Pentagon’s budget, closing many of the US armed forces’ foreign bases, bringing troops home from Afghanistan and cutting aid for Israel.
- His Tea Party credentials have helped his standing in the polls and this is without question his most successful presidential campaign. He favours smaller government by cutting half its spending, and shutting five cabinet level agencies. He would also abolish the federal income tax and the Inland Revenue Service.
- Like others, he has shot to the top of polls only for past controversies to affect his numbers. In this case, there have been questions about leaflets distributed under his name in the 90s which contain racist and homophobic views. Paul has disassociated himself with the leaflets, saying he didn’t write them.
- A former Air Force pilot and farmer, Perry has been in politics since the early 80s. He was George W Bush’s Lieutenant Governor in Texas before the junior Bush went off to the White House and Perry assumed the governorship which he retained in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
- He once supported former US Vice President and Democrat Al Gore when he was running for president in 1988, but he later defended this support and subsequent switch to the Republicans, pointing out it was a switch former President Ronald Reagan made at one point in his political life.
- In Texas he has overseen a remarkable level of job creation going against the national grain of rising unemployment but closer scrutiny of the numbers make the rise less impressive. Nonetheless there was considerable clamour for him to enter the race last year.
- Once he did, he topped early polls but then the debates came and his performances were widely panned. This was primarily thanks to the most humiliating moment ever seen in a debate when Perry couldn’t remember one of the three government departments he wanted to abolish.
- Perry supports a constitutional ban on abortion having been previously been in favour of allowing states to decide. He has called the imposition of a US-Mexico border fence “idiocy” and says there needs to be more border agents to curb illegal immigration. He also wants Congress to become a part-time institution in order to reduce costs and put a stop to the political gridlock currently engulfing Washington.
For more on the candidates positions on the main issues, check out this handy guide from the Associated Press.