Leading article: The Republicans must prove their seriousness

Share
Related Topics

If they had their way, Republican elders would surely never have chosen Iowa as the starting point of the process to determine the party's presidential nominee. Small and overwhelmingly white, with a Republican electorate heavily dominated by social conservatives, the Midwestern and heavily agricultural state is distinctly unrepresentative of early 21st century America.

Nor, even more certainly, would party bosses have chosen the current selection of contenders to challenge President Obama in November. Many of the potentially strongest candidates – among them Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie, sitting governors of Indiana and New Jersey, respectively, as well as Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents – for differing reasons chose to take a pass on 2012.

Of those actually in the race, both published polls and the private opinions of most Republican strategists suggest that Mitt Romney has much the best chance of defeating Mr Obama in the general election – even though the former governor of Massachusetts has conspicuously failed to excite the party base. In politics, as in life, however, one must go with what one has. Only one in five of the state's registered Republicans may actually bother to participate in them, but tonight, as in every election since 1976, Iowa's caucuses formally kick off the contest to select the most powerful man on the planet. And with them will begin a winnowing of the field.

The first to go may be Michele Bachmann, the conservative Minnesota Congresswoman who has staked all on Iowa, but whose support now languishes in single digits. Barring a small miracle, John Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and US Ambassador to China, will follow her after next week's primary in New Hampshire.

The signs are that the result in Iowa will be close. Mr Romney is in a virtual tie with Ron Paul, the quirky libertarian Congressman from Texas. Rising fast in the polls is the improbable figure of Rick Santorum, the former two-term senator whose ringing Christian conservatism has led Iowans to forget that, in 2006, he was thrown out by Pennsylvania's voters by the largest margin they ever inflicted on an incumbent.

The other two candidates, the erstwhile House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, will probably do well enough to stay alive, in the hope of resurrecting their campaigns with strong performances in the remaining primaries in South Carolina and Florida later in the month.

In a contest marked above all by a deafening lack of enthusiasm for Mr Romney, and in which almost all his rivals have surged, only to fall quickly back to earth, any prediction is unwise. There are, however, two most likely scenarios. Should Mr Romney prevail in Iowa and follow up with a big win in New Hampshire, where he has long been far ahead in the polls, he could wrap up the nomination very quickly. But if Iowa's hitherto divided social conservatives rally behind a single candidate who emerges triumphant tonight, then a long and bruising battle is in prospect, and the prime beneficiary will probably be Barack Obama.

Either way, it will soon be clear whether the Republicans are serious about regaining the White House. Unlike 2008, this is an election the party can win. Personally, Mr Obama remains reasonably popular. But, as he struggles with the worst economy in decades, he has inevitably lost that magical aura of four years ago. His good fortune has been the quality of his opponents, above all in Congress, whose dysfunction is rightly blamed by voters on Republican intransigence. Thus far, events on the Republican campaign trail suggest that his luck continues to hold.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Network Engineer - London - £70,000

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An excellent opportunity ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: Communications and External Affairs Assistant

£24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Communications and External Affairs As...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

£29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A mother and her child  

50 signs that we need to stop spreading the myth of the 'ideal mother'

Victoria Richards
The top ten places where people are most likely to catch an STI have been revealed  

Surveys of people’s sex lives: how do we know what to believe?

Simon Kelner
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness