Saturday, September 24, 2011

Election 2012: GOP Handicapping Update


Yes, it's been many moons since I did one of these, but it's finally starting to get interesting from a horse-race perspective. Hell, the last time I handicapped the 2012 GOP nomination, most of the candidates weren't even formally declared yet (and they still may not be).

After Thursday's debate, a lot of conservative pundits seem to be re-considering whether or not Texas governor Rick Perry is "front-runner material" -- just as I'm starting to think he is, and that there may even be a path to victory over Obama next November for him.

Yes, he stumbled and mumbled a bit, blowing a chance to really stick it to Mitt Romney on the "flip-flop" issue.

But he also separated himself from the rest of the "top tier," and in a Reaganesque way (and tactically, possibly in a "plurality for me, majority split amongst the rest of you" way), on immigration.

That's his path to victory over Obama: Relentlessly positive, visionary Ronald Reagan "Morning in America 1980 redux." And that seems to be the kind of campaign he's trying to get going.

Whether that approach can get him the nomination or not is another question, of course. But who are the other realistic choices?

Right now I'd say the "top tier" is Perry, Romney and -- can you believe you're actually hearing this from me? -- US Representative Ron Paul.

Paul has garnered more support this time around, and what support he has seems solid. I'm still not seeing any sign that he's about to break away from the pack, but hey, I guess it could happen.

Romney seems to always be in the top three for the nomination, but the simple fact is he has about as much chance of beating Obama next November as I have of winning the Boston Marathon. He's too much like Obama to energize the GOP base (who want something very different from Obama), or to court the center (in centrist versus centrist, the incumbent centrist has a definite advantage with the center).

Absent some kind of unpredictable Ron Paul surge that I still just don't expect to see, Perry versus Romney is shaping up as Ronald Reagan 1980 versus Bob Dole 1996. There's not only one way that can end, but there's only one way it can end that gives the GOP a reasonable shot at the White House.

If Perry sticks to his guns on immigration, a Rick Perry/Marco Rubio ticket might put the hispanic vote into play, and even possibly make the GOP competitive in Florida, where "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" probably costs them 10% right off the top.

Or how about Perry and a northeastern Republican -- Chris Christie, John Sununu or Judd Gregg, perhaps? Christie might do a lot for the ticket not just in the northeast proper, but extending west into the Rust Belt -- maybe not Michigan so much, but Ohio and western Pennsylvania (remember those "Reagan Democrats" of yesteryear?). Longer shot, but given Obama's abysmal civil liberties record, Gregg or Sununu might pull some anti-Patriot Act, etc. votes from the center.

Anyway, it's not over 'til it's over, but my take right now is that Perry can stay out front and pull away if he plays his cards right; that Romney's in second and whether it's a close or distant second is up to Perry, not Romney; and that Paul is lurking in the tall grass and just might find a way to pounce, to unknown effect.

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