White House 2012: The Republican presidential hopefuls
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As President Obama presses ahead with his re-election campaign, a list of possible Republican challengers is emerging - a group of hopefuls testing the mood of the right-wing electorate and determined to make the incumbent a one-term president.
With the 2012 US presidential vote drawing closer and incumbent Barack Obama sharpening up his re-election campaign, a group of potential Republican challengers is taking shape.
Those eyeing a bid for their party's nomination include previous unsuccessful contenders from the 2008 election; a party veteran whose political experience comes with some personal baggage; and one telegenic, but very polarising former vice presidential candidate from America's coldest state. Here's a closer look at the field.
The early frontrunner
Mitt Romney: Though he failed to get his party’s nomination in 2008, the former Massachusetts governor, who is of Mormon faith, is widely considered a frontrunner this time. Romney is a successful businessman who says Republicans can beat Obama by focusing on the economy – setting himself up as the logical candidate. But he is also haunted by the inconvenient fact that he created a healthcare plan for Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to “Obamacare”, the reform Republicans loathe most. Will his business credentials and executive experience make up for what some see as an ideologically inconsistent record?
The Tea Party kings and queens
Ron Paul: A longtime Congressman from Texas, Paul is known for staking out independent political positions. He is the rare Republican to criticise US involvement in foreign wars, and has proposed reducing America’s military presence around the world. But his fiscal conservatism has won him a loyal following in the Tea Party movement, and in a field of Republican candidates that is viewed as rather uninspiring, Paul’s bid for the nomination could gain more traction than it did in 2008.
Michele Bachmann: This Minnesota Congresswoman is a divisive figure both outside her party and in. Democrats revile her for her hardline conservative positions on issues from abortion to federal spending; establishment Republicans are wary of Bachmann for her tendency to make controversial and factually questionable public statements.
But Bachmann’s emphasis on a strict interpretation of the Constitution and her chipper, outspoken manner has earned a passionate following in the Tea Party movement. She may pitch herself as an alternative to Republican candidates seen as having betrayed small-government principles.
Rick Perry: This 61-year-old Texan succeeded George W. Bush in 2000 as governor of Texas (a position he still holds), and his southwestern twang and passionate evangelical faith are also reminiscent of the former president. Despite those similarities to an unpopular ex-commander-in-chief, Perry comes to the race with some advantages: he’s known as a fierce fundraiser, Tea Party supporters like him, and he has solid credentials as both a fiscal conservative (he cut education and healthcare spending in his home state rather than raise taxes) and a social conservative (he’s a staunch opponent of abortion). But with Mitt Romney considered the favourite and Michele Bachmann the one with momentum, Perry will have to play catch-up in the early weeks of his campaign. Rivals will also be on the lookout for potentially damaging gaffes – as when, in 2009, Perry publicly entertained the notion of Texas seceding from the union.
Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, current Fox news contributor, and perennial object of left-wing ridicule has been coy about her presidential intentions. She remains a polarising figure disliked by a dangerously high proportion of Americans for someone eyeing the White House (52% of Americans have an unfavourable opinion of Palin, according to a recent Gallup poll). But her supporters adore her brisk, shoot-from-the-hip oratorical style and image as someone unafraid to speak out against powerbrokers and insiders from both parties. Furthermore, in the midterm elections of November 2010, Palin emerged as a major mentor within the Tea Party movement, endorsing several little-known contenders instead of more mainstream Republicans. Democrats are betting that her reputation as a lightweight on the issues – particularly foreign policy – would make Palin easy for Obama to beat. Will Republicans call their bluff?
Jon Huntsman: A former governor of Utah and ambassador to China for President Obama since 2009, Huntsman enters the race as a moderate Republican hoping to attract independents, centrists and disillusioned Democrats. He is considered a fiscal conservative and a staunch pro-life advocate. But will his cordial ties to the Obama administration and his avowed “respect” for the president – along with his support for same-sex civil unions, caps on fossil fuel emissions and Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan – turn off the Republican base he needs to win the nomination?
Newt Gingrich: Former House Speaker Gingrich is one of the most seasoned potential Republican candidates, having overseen his party’s takeover of Congress in 1994 while Bill Clinton was president. But Gingrich’s political experience comes with a fair amount of baggage. A series of ethics scandals forced Gingrich to step down in 1998, and revelations of an extramarital affair shortly after further tarnished his image. Still, he has managed to stay in the game by speaking and writing regularly on politics since resigning from office.
The dark horses
Herman Cain: He has no experience as an elected official, but this successful African-American businessman has other things going for him, particularly in the eyes of Tea Partiers: a compelling American-dream-come-true life story (he grew up poor but eventually became the CEO of fast-food chain Godfather’s Pizza) and an agenda that emphasises strict fiscal conservatism. While party insiders like Karl Rove have expressed scepticism toward Cain’s credentials, polls show higher enthusiasm for him than for any other Republican contender. Still, Cain’s debate performances have suggested a shaky grasp of foreign policy and a tendency to make controversial statements (he has said he would not be comfortable appointing a Muslim to his cabinet) – drawbacks in a race for the nomination that may boil down to who looks most “presidential”.
Rick Santorum: A former Republican senator – and George W. Bush ally -- from Pennsylvania, Santorum has a reputation for being a staunch, across-the-board conservative, from his hawkish foreign policy statements to his stances on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. But Santorum is a lesser-known, lower-profile politician in a field of headline-grabbing contenders, and he has still not addressed in any significant detail what will surely be the defining issue of the campaign: the economy.
Main photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Andrew Feinberg/Flickr.