The battle for US presidency continues

By Ciji Singletary

At long last, the list of potential Republican presidential candidates has been whittled down to a manageable number. The final four consist of Ron Paul, the eminently Google-able Rick Santorum, New Gingrich, and, Mister Inevitable himself, Mitt Romney. Realistically, however, out of all four men, we are down to just two viable candidates: Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney, on whom most of the media attention is focussed.

Mr. Romney won the Florida primary on Tuesday 2 February. This victory gave him a lead over Mr. Gingrich, who took South Carolina on 2 January casting doubt on just how inevitable Mitt really was. Mr. Romney now has a total of 84 delegates. A candidate must receive 1,144 delegates out of a possible 2,286 to be declared the official Republican nominee.

As I type this, Romney sailed to an easy win in Nevada. A poll of GOP voters entering Nevada’s caucuses, held in more than 100 schools and other places around the state, showed they were heavily conservative which of course attributed to Romney’s win. Three out of four voters said they were Tea Party supporters, and one in four said they were Mormon, a group that voted overwhelmingly for Romney in the state’s 2008 caucuses. 

Romney celebrated his victory by blasting President Barack Obama’s performance on the economy, saying the president’s “misguided policies made these tough times last longer.” “We’re not going to settle for a president who tells us, ‘It could be worse,” Romney said. He continued, “Mr. President, Nevada has had enough of your kind of help. … America has also had enough of your kind of help.”

Mr. Romney is seen by many to be a middle-of-the-road candidate who is best suited to compete with Mr. Obama for independent votes. Independent voters strongly supported Mr. Obama in 2008. The ability to win over independents and seize victory in the general election was crucial to a majority of Florida primary voters who identified a candidates’ ability to defeat Barack Obama as their number one concern. In an exit poll conducted by the New York Times, defeating Barack Obama ranked more important than experience, adherence to “true conservative” values, and even strong moral character.

Mr. Obama has been paying attention to Mr. Romney’s success and the two have already begun to square off on economic policy. It will be a tough fight. The unemployment rate in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since Mr. Obama took office, which is good news for the President, and will ultimately provide him with vital ammunition when it comes to the economy. However, the New York Times reports that officials in the White House acknowledge that Iranian nuclear ambitions, the on-going turmoil in the Middle East, and the Euro-zone crisis could take back the ground that was just gained.

Mr. Gingrich seems to be placing all of his bets on a big win on Super Tuesday when 10 states will hold their primary. Even though Mr. Gingrich may be catching his breath until 3 March, it’s unlikely that he will put it to a more imaginative use than what we have heard so far. His campaign, when not endorsing his ideas for a colony on the moon, is still aimed at attacking Mr. Romney as a moderate who doesn’t uphold traditional conservative values. This position has given Mr. Gingrich, despite being on his third marriage, strong support among evangelicals and the Tea Party.

Another line of attack against Mr. Romney is that his wealth has left him out of touch with Americans struggling to find employment or make ends meet with only part time job. Mr. Romney has not helped this image with unfortunate sound bites like, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” His intention with that statement was only to highlight his support for the middle class, but quoted out of context it didn’t sound that way in the press. Another gaffe occurred last June when after listening to a group of unemployed workers discuss their plight Mr. Romney replied, “I’m also out of work… I have my sight on a particular job.” Stay tuned to find out how successful his job hunt will be.

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