The latest Rasmussen poll
in the US gives the favourites for both the Democratic and Republican nominations in next year's Presidential race pause for thought. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has dipped from over 40% of registered Democrats wanting her as their nominee, to the mid 30s in a couple of months. The story at the moment is that she may well lose Iowa and New Hampshire to Barack Obama- should that happen Senator Clinton might be overwhelmed by a new momentum- one of failure. Its on the Republican side of the aisle that things are getting even more interesting though- and the lack of any clear favourite in this week's poll suggests a truth that many have realised for a long time- next year's Republican nominee will not be someone the Republicans would naturally be happy running with normally.
Rasmussen gives these percentages for the leading Republicans, Rudi Giuliani and Mike Huckabee are tied on 18%, then comes John McCain on 14%, then Fred Thompson on 13% and lastly Mitt Romney on 12%. Add in Ron Paul who is in the high single figures and has vast amounts of money to spend and you have a potential six way race for the nomination. The previous favourite was of course Mayor Giuliani- but Giuliani has major problems with his candidacy. The party of family values might well be uncomfortable led by a divorcee- but led by such a callous divorcee as Giuliani some of the base are going to be livid. Furthermore Giuliani is 'soft' both on homosexuality and on immigration- two vastly important issues for the base. Despite his muscular stance on the war on terror, Giuliani is not a natural Republican nominee- not say in the way that George Bush was- and his record in New York whilst good is tarnished by his closeness to the corrupt and scandalous.
But Giuliani leads- and that is not as much to do with the Mayor's impressiveness to the base as to his rivals failings. Mike Huckabee who is tied at the top with him is congenial on many different levels- religious, a successful governor and all the rest. But equally Huckabee is seen by many as the economic populist
candidate for the nomination. Furthermore should they nominate Huckabee, the Republicans would be nominating a man who has said that he doesn't believe in evolution- not exactly an image the party will be eager to substantiate. Huckabee is too much of a compassionate conservative for all the Republican coalition to be happy with.
John McCain suffers from neither the scandalous past of Rudi nor the odd economic views of Huckabee. McCain is a man with an unimpeachable war record as well- having fought bravely in Vietnam and been tortured there by the communists. But still he is a far from perfect candidate. Too many Republicans remember McCain-Feingold, the effort to restrict campaign finance in the senate. Too many Republicans remember that McCain has insulted the religious right, ran against George Bush in 2000 and too many see his arguments against torture as arguments to ignore the safety of the United States in favour of pesky legal rights. A French option. McCain therefore has never made the base happy- and furthermore should they elect him he would be passing his 75th birthday in office.
If McCain is too old- then Fred Thompson behaves as though he is too old. The former senator has all the right positions- there are the odd fragments of heresy in his past but nothing like the other candidates. But Thompson's problem isn't his positions- its his behaviour. Before entering the race, like Galba there was noone who Republicans looked to more, but since entering the race, like Galba he has seemed to be the man that noone wants. As Mark Steyn argued
recently in the National Review, Thompson has "the listless air of a bored grandparent at a dreary school play." He just doesn't seem up for the fight.
And that leaves Mitt Romney who is definitely up for the fight, definitely economically conservative and definitely competent. But two question marks hang over Romney. The first is that he is a Mormon- not likely to go down well with evangelicals. The second and just as important is that Romney has on previous occasions had all sorts of positions which now he has abandoned- from being anti-gay to pro-gay, from being pro-abortion to anti-abortion, he is seen as opportunistic and charming. But of course having reversed now to win one election, Romney could easily reverse all his positions again. And then there is Ron Paul, whose candidacy has vast issues- to do with Iraq, to do with some odd stances on things like the UN and on national spending.
The outcome is the Republicans don't really have an orthodox front runner- Rudi is in the lead at the moment in all the polls- but things could change very easily. There is no perfect candidate on the Republican side of the aisle- and any of these will leave most conservatives holding their noses as they go into the booths to vote. That's not to say that they won't coalesce round a candidate nor to say that they won't be happier if such a candidate is elected, but at the moment there isn't an obvious Republican to step forward. An obvious Republican would be a former governor, conservative on all issues but sane with it, a safe pair of hands with a sound ideological backbone- only one man fits that prescription,
Jeb Bush anyone.