With Chris Christie and Sarah Palin announcing they will not run for president in 2012, a chapter has been closed in the GOP primary race for president and the GOP field is now set. The real race to find a challenger to Barack Obama has begun. The two most likely candidates to be nominated in Tampa, Florida next year is Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. Rick Perry took a hit in the polls in the last month as he struggled in the debates and increased doubts among conservatives as well as Republican professionals alike that were looking to an electable, conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. But with the Perry campaign raising a reportedly $17 million dollars in the third quarter, more than any other GOP candidate, including Mitt Romney, Rick Perry will have the resources necessary to compete in the long haul against Mitt Romney. In addition, it’s obvious that Mitt Romney does not ignite the passion of the most conservative elements in the Republican Party and will face renewed scrutiny and challenges in the coming weeks. Yes it’s true there are other candidates and some of them could make a splash in either Iowa (Santorum, Cain, Bachmann) or New Hampshire (Huntsman, Paul) in an unpredictable time with a very unpredictable electorate but folks, the GOP nominee will be Perry or Romney plain and simple.
Now that we know the field is set, the last domino to fall is when Iowa and New Hampshire will hold their respective votes. The uncertainty of these dates comes from Florida’s decision to move up their primary to Jan. 31, in violation of RNC rules. The change by Florida led to a ripple effect which has prompted South Carolina to schedule its primary on Jan. 21 and for Nevada to set its caucuses on Jan. 14. With these dates now set there is a possibility (although unlikely) that the Iowa Caucuses would be in late December and that New Hampshire would hold its primary on Jan. 3. But what seems more likely is what took place in 2008, when many states leap frogged their scheduled dates, with the Iowa Caucuses likely being held on Jan 3 and the New Hampshire Primary Jan. 10. This leaves Perry and Romney in addition to the other candidates less than 90 days before a whirlwind of contests that could, I emphasize could, produce a GOP nominee by Feb. 1, 2012.
There is an opportunity for Perry to retake control of the GOP race if he is able to show himself more able on the debate stage and with a message that not only works in Texas but one that could win nationally. Perry will have the resources to run lots of negative ads against Romney and will be able to put the focus on Romney in the coming weeks as Romney is regarded as the fragile frontrunner once again. Conversely, Romney must continue to run the stealth campaign that he has up to this point but must also get more passionate support behind his candidacy if he is to win the nomination. If, however, Perry falters it may be that Romney will be the last man standing in the process – – that very well may happen.
Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, the 2012 presidential election is likely to be very competitive as the election will be taking place with a backdrop of high economic unease in the country and with an incumbent president who is vulnerable yet formidable. The decision of Chris Christie and Sarah Palin not to run for president helped move along a process that will eventually lead to Election Day 2012. Let the race begin!