Election 2012: How Each Candidate Can Win

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Recently by John Thorpe: Ron Paul Tied for First Place


Barring a major change between now and the primaries this winter, someone among this group of five will likely be the Republican candidate for president in 2012. Each one has a path to victory and would represent a particular message that the GOP is sending to the American people for the 2012 elections.

Let’s look at each of the five remaining major candidates and explore where they stand in the polls, their path to victory, and what their selection as nominee might mean for the Republicans in 2012. All polling data in this story utilizes an average of polls, aggregated at RealClearPolitics.com.

Mitt Romney:

  • National Polls: Second Place, 21.3 percent
  • New Hampshire: First Place, 36.8 percent
  • Iowa: Third Place, 17.0 percent
  • South Carolina: Third Place, 18.0 percent
  • Florida: First Place, 25.0 percent

Romney’s Path to Victory Despite polls showing him in second place, Romney is in many ways still the frontrunner. He has more cash than Gingrich, and he’s just not as prone to saying the kind of mindless, stupid thing that Gingrich is. He’s also going to win New Hampshire and places well in the other key states. His path is simple: win New Hampshire, place in Iowa, and survive in good shape until Super Tuesday. The longer this drags out with Gingrich as his top competition, the more likely it is that Gingrich will say something stupid and derail Team Gingrich.

What a Romney Nomination Means to GOP in 2012 A Romney win would signal that the GOP is going to run on a "we’re competent, we can fix the economy and create jobs" platform. This is their best chance at beating Obama, as he is vulnerable on the economy front. This paradigm also avoids talking about tax cuts for billionaires, which are not politically popular, or massive cuts to social programs, which are also not politically popular outside of the far right.

Newt Gingrich:

  • National Polls: First Place, 23.8 percent
  • New Hampshire: Second Place, 18.5 percent
  • Iowa: First Place, 22.7 percent
  • South Carolina: Second Place, 20.0 percent
  • Florida: Third Place, 14.0 percent

Gingrich’s Path to Victory Gingrich has turned from an absolute joke to a front-runner by virtue of two facts. One, he is not Mitt Romney. Two, all the other main contenders have had their turn as the anti-Romney, and have failed. It’s simply his turn.

Unlike the other candidates, Gingrich might have a chance to parlay his strength into a win. He is leading nationally, which won’t mean much until after these four early states have their say. He’s in second in New Hampshire, and could close the gap on Romney now that he has a key newspaper endorsement there. If he can win Iowa and close the gap in New Hampshire, he could have this down to a three-man race (Romney and Paul) in minimal time.

Gingrich’s victory depends on weeding out all the other anti-Romney candidates as quickly as possible, and then gaining the support of those voters. While Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere, Perry and Bachmann are sure to drop out soon after the voting starts. Both of those camps have a chunk of voters more aligned with Gingrich than Romney or Paul.

What a Gingrich Nomination Means to GOP in 2012 If Gingrich wins, the GOP has decided its best bet is to relive the mid-1990s. Gingrich could push the party to adopt a reform it, don’t kill it, agenda for social programs. He could also be the worst candidate since Mondale, and lose in a landslide.

Ron Paul:

  • National Polls: Fourth Place Tie, 8 percent
  • New Hampshire: Third Place, 13.3 percent
  • Iowa: Fourth Place, 13.0 percent
  • South Carolina: Sixth Place, 4.0 percent
  • Florida: Fifth Place, 4.3 percent

Paul’s Path to Victory Of the major contenders, Paul’s path to victory is the most tenuous. There are three reasons for this. One, the media treats Ron Paul as if he doesn’t exist. Two, Ron Paul’s libertarian ideas are much more easily attacked than they are easily explained. Libertarians might understand the argument for cutting certain social programs, but average voters? Not so much. All they’ll hear is "starving old people and killing babies" and run. That’s a lot to overcome. Third, Paul is not a naturally slick, charismatic politician. He’s a doctor who found another calling in politics. This leaves him without a broad constituency who follow him for anything other than his libertarianism.

That said, Paul does have a path to victory. It’s a bit of a longshot, but I believe it is doable, if things go his way. First, he has to outpace Romney in Iowa. Cain is clearly imploding and will fall in that state, leaving Paul in at least third. He has to jump Romney and move into second place. This gives him momentum heading into New Hampshire, where he can make his charge and take another second place finish. This is enough to keep his campaign alive until the first wave of candidates drop out. If Santorum, Perry, and Bachmann all drop out, and if Gingrich starts to implode a little, Paul will get the benefit of extra voters. If Cain plummets in New Hampshire and Iowa (he is trending downward), those voters could come Paul’s way as well.

Therefore, Ron Paul’s path forward is to start pushing the social agenda and family-first parts of his program. His pro-life stance should be forefront in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. He should highlight how his economic plans will help families far more than any other candidate (improved dollar, savings rates, low taxes, etc).

If Ron Paul fully embraces the Reagan style of libertarianism (and ignores the non-libertarian parts of it), and if he sells himself as the person who can get government the hell out of everyone’s way (including parents, religious folks who feel persecuted, social conservatives, and so forth) he can capture the votes of everyone not beholden to Gingrich or Romney. He can make it a three-man race, and in those circumstances, he can win. Is it a big checklist? Sure. He needs all the cards to fall his way, and he needs a little luck.

He needs to expand his base by emphasizing family and religious freedoms, and he needs to point out that Gingrich and Romney are both big government Republicans. If I could give Paul any advice, it would be that.

What a Paul Nomination Means to GOP in 2012 A Ron Paul nomination would mean a sharp change toward libertarianism and an antagonistic relationship with more liberal elements in government. He could redefine the entire political spectrum.

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John Thorpe [send him mail] writes for Benzinga. Read his articles.

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