In a posting last week, I looked at the Democratic contenders for president in 2008. As we head into the heart of the fall campaign leading up to the caucuses and primaries, let's examine the Republican candidates.
Rudy Giuliani: He is the national frontrunner, but it is arguable whether or not that matters, since typically the nomination is sequential -- voters choose one state at a time and Iowa and New Hampshire serve as gatekeepers for the process.
Pros: he is the hero of 9/11 and no one will ever take that away from him. Terrorism is a top issue for Republicans (and close to the top for all voters) and he gives the Republicans a further edge on the issue with his record as a crime buster and security consultant. He has experience as the successful chief executive of the country's third largest government and has been successful in business. Republicans like strong leaders and voters overall have told us that the chief characteristic they are looking for in the next president is a "competent manager."
Cons: like Hillary Clinton, he is a lightening rod and has made a lot of enemies, especially liberals and minorities (who are not going to vote for him anyway, but can make a lot of noise). He also has serious family issues. Many Americans come from dysfunctional families, but most of them don't run for president. Then there is the problem best described in the famous words Cary Grant never spoke: "Judy, Judy, Judy." Judy Nathan Giuliani makes Teresa Heinz Kerry look like Ruth from the Old Testament.
Fred Thompson: He has finally announced and has received a bounce in the polls.
Pros: he has an impressive resume, comes from a good state, and is very tall (see John Kerry). He also has some leading Bush consultants working for him.
Cons: be careful of the Ronald Reagan comparisons (like all of those "Kennedy-esque" wannabes over the years, you lose when you try to compare yourself with an icon). He has a very dull campaign speech, has given little thought to a platform for running (he says he is "for small government." What Republican ever runs on a Big Government platform?) He has fallen short on fundraising. He has sold the sizzle well so far, but watch for the "Freddie Fizzle."
Mitt Romney: He has huge leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Should he win both states, can he be stopped?
Pros: he has been the successful governor of a Democratic state and in addition to being a "competent manager" he possesses the second ranking quality voters are looking for: an "ability to work with the other side of the aisle." He can claim three states as home - Utah, Michigan, and Massachusetts - and has plenty of money with more to follow. And he is straight from central casting with good looks and a photogenic wife and family.
Cons: he has flip-flopped pretty dramatically on key conservative issues and is a Mormon, which can hurt him among Christian conservatives. But if Hillary Clinton is nominated, it is hard to imagine even very demoralized conservatives not voting for him.
John McCain: He is down but not out.
Pros: he has that great biography and the respect of many Americans. He is at his best when he is the scrappy maverick and he has experience (especially military and legislative).
Cons: he owns the surge strategy in Iraq and there may be some evidence that it can help him climb back into the upper tier in the early primaries, but it will hurt him in a general election. He also has a serious lack of money and his age and health may indeed be factors. He has problems with the party's base, especially on the immigration issue.
Mike Huckabee: The former governor of Arkansas he is gaining a reputation for his affability and decency.
Pros: he is a popular born-again Christian and a solid conservative. He is an ordained Baptist preacher and is this year's version of the Democrat's favorite Republican. He has been a successful governor of a swing state, has had the best one-liners from the debates, and his loss of one hundred pounds makes him a role model for many struggling Americans.
Cons: he has no money, though he is starting to joke about it. But he will have a tough road if he doesn't win Iowa. (Hint: think vice-president, especially if Rudy or Romney wins the nomination).
Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback: I don't get it. There is a competition to be Great Conservative Hope in the GOP nomination race, and while these guys are trying, they aren't winning. Tancredo will kick up a little dust on immigration, but not enough to make a difference.
Ron Paul: He is the libertarian with a strong Internet following. He is also the only anti-war candidate. He may get some votes but never enough to move up enough.
Newt Gingrich: He could be the conservatives' candidate and, like Al Gore, can afford to wait because he has the name recognition, the ability to raise money, and the ability to frame issues. If undecided voters among Republicans remain high and/or if one of the leaders implodes, Newt could get in.