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August 24, 2015

Its a long way to the Primary Part 1

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The last few columns have analyzed the outsider phenomenon in the Republican presidential primary. Time to look at the insiders.

To fairly apportion attention, let’s use the latest national Quinnipiac Poll to distinguish the possibles from the improbables.

On the low end, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina; Gov. Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; former Gov. Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas; Gov. Chris Christie, of New Jersey; Gov. John Kasich, of Ohio; and former Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, are all low single digit dwellers. Mr. Santorum and Governor Kasich seem like the most likely to rise from the basement, but even they have a steep climb just to make it into the ranks of the possible.

It’s early.

At the other end, you have the three top contenders: Donald Trump, of New York; Dr. Ben Carson, former Johns Hopkins professor and neurosurgeon, and Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, in that order. After that, there’s an odd mixture mid-tier, featuring Carly Fiorina, of California; former Gov. Jeb Bush, of Florida; Gov. Scott Walker, of Wisconsin; followed by Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky.

In truth, the GOP nomination beauty contest really only has one leading contender, followed by a short list of runners-up and a long list of Miss Congeniality types.

A year ago, Senator Paul was the subject of libertarian/conservative attention. His filibuster on liberty was highly regarded, his stance on government digital intrusion without warrants brought him mass attention. Now he languishes, mid-pack, his message no longer carrying the same resonance.

Senator Rubio is the young guy, the rising star with a golden tongue and an immigrant family story. He’s also a junior senator who hasn’t even completed a full term in office. Remember the last guy?

Former tech CEO Carly Fiorina won the “children’s table” debate, the warm-up to the first televised debate among GOP candidates. Whether by sheer skills, or because the others were lacking luster, Ms. Fiorina looks to have a full year ahead, especially if she can score a victory on a stage with the leading contenders.

Senator Cruz is the smart guy, the one mid-pack candidate who refuses to take the Trump bait and bash the polling leader. The logic is probably that Mr. Trump, at some point, is going to do or say something so monumentally stupid that Senator Cruz will just sit back and collect those Trump supporters when that happens.

Governors Christie and Kasich, along with former Governor Bush, are seemingly stuck in a crush toward the party center. All are what might be called traditional establishment Republicans, boardroom guys who can reach consensus in a room filled with Democrats and Republicans.

Nobody seems to think that’s a good thing right now.

Senator Graham is the war hawk, calling for troop infusions in the Middle East at a time that most Americans would rather have the whole mess just disappear. Good luck with that, Lindsay.

Ex-Governor Huckabee and former Senator Santorum were both counting on the evangelical wing of the GOP to carry them strongly out of Iowa toward South Carolina. The evangelicals seem to be at least partially drawn to the Trump message, at least for now.

Governor Jindal and former Governor Perry don’t even really have a coherent, cohesive message at this point. It shows in their polling.

Billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump has a commanding 11-point lead over his second-closest rival, Dr. Carson. He and Senator Rubio are separated by a few points, with a big difference between them and that list of mid-tier wanna-be’s.

The real story is that big gap at the top. We’ll examine that a little more closely next week.


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