Where is the GOP frontrunner?

Contributed by Shell Suber

Re-posted from The Political Entrepreneur http://politicalentrepreneur.wordpress.com/

On the night of the midterm elections in 1998, several network and cable news channels cut to live feeds from the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion in Austin where reporters breathlessly informed America that Governor George W. Bush of Texas had been reelected convincingly and was now the favorite for the GOP nomination in 2000.

I was in a hotel ballroom full of Republicans and remember someone puzzling aloud: “Who decided that?” Shoulders shrugged but everyone seemed okay with having just watched the coveted status of frontrunner bestowed upon a candidate. After all, it wasn’t the best of nights for Republicans – particularly in South Carolina – so they were happy to hear something, anything, positive. And having a “frontrunner” qualified. 

But as rehearsals begin for the political theater soon to be known as the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries, one major roll has yet to be cast: Who will be the star? The GOP doesn’t have a Frontrunner. Republicans NEVER start production without a FRONTRUNNER!!!

  • In 1988 VP George H. W. Bush was hand-picked by the director himself, Ronald Reagan.
  • In 1996 Bob Dole started and finished in front of a crowded (and somewhat odd) field of hopefuls.
  • In 2000, Bush the Younger was tapped early and, despite an unexpected – and deeply resented – challenge from the charismaverick John McCain (get it?), never trailed.
  • In 2008 McCain started with the big dressing room with the star on the door – was evicted from it – and clawed his way back in just in time for the curtain to go up.

But this time the playbill is far less clear. Not since the 1980 dustup between Reagan and John Connally has there been this much debate over whose name should go first on the marquee with just under two years to go before showtime.

In the days right after this month’s midterm elections, CNN conducted a survey among Republicans that showed Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in a statistical tie with around 20% followed by Sarah Palin at14% and Newt Gingrich with 12% and five others in single digits.

So what? Why do Republicans need a clear “frontrunner” twenty-one months before their Tampa, Florida convention?

Well, they don’t, really. Nevertheless, they usually have one by now and the title is very important because, in the Republican Party, early frontrunner status is the common denominator of every eventual winner since (and perhaps including) Reagan.

This is because, in primaires, Republicans tend to dutifully go home with the girl they brought to the dance, even if they meet one along the way they like a little more. Just ask McCain in ’00. Democrats, on the other hand, will start the night with one girl, meet a prettier one, and leave their date hanging in a New Hampshire minute. Just ask Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown in ‘92, and Hillary Clinton in ’08.

Does the current lack of a clear frontrunner mean there is a new paradigm in Republican politics and the 30 year trend of frontrunner domination is about to come to an end?

Well, we are about seven weeks from being one year away from the first of the 2012 primaries and if I were one of those top GOP prospects, I would be making every move I could think of to get to the front between now and Christmas, just in case the answer is no.

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