Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 8:20 pm | Fair 72º


Michael Barone: Twists and Turns Ahead in Republican Presidential Race

Romney and Bachmann emerge as clear winners in Monday's debate

President Barack Obama did not watch the Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Manchester, N.H., on Monday night, we are told. He was busy addressing a campaign fundraising event in Miami.

If Obama had TiVoed the debate, he would have seen a full crowd in the glitzy cavernous hall of Saint Anselm College. Something of a contrast to the empty seats at the top level of the gleaming Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, even though tickets ran as low as $44.

The standard rule in politics is to hire a hall that’s not big enough for the crowd you expect. This was no problem for the Obama campaign in 2008, when it filled venues as large as Invesco Field in Denver and Grant Park in Chicago.

The comparative crowd sizes Monday night suggest that, as in the 2010 elections, the balance of enthusiasm has shifted to the other side.

There were two clear winners in the Republican debate. I have argued that there is no front-runner for the Republican nomination, but Mitt Romney certainly looked like one. His clear vulnerability is his Massachusetts health-care program, with its Obamacare-like mandate to buy health insurance.

But no one called him on it. Tim Pawlenty, who had criticized “Obamneycare” on Fox News Sunday, seemed to take that back at Saint Anselm. Romney responded by saying that if Obama had asked his advice, he would have said that Obamacare wouldn’t work.

In doing so, he showed the sense of command that is one quality Americans usually seek in a president. And he continually brandished his businessman’s credentials by attacking Obama’s economic policies as disastrous.

The other clear winner was Michele Bachmann, who took the occasion to announce her candidacy and who was clearly well prepared for likely questions.

She batted back CNN moderator John King’s suggestion that she was irresponsible in opposing an increase in the federal debt limit by quoting another statement opposing it — by then-Sen. Barack Obama. She declined King’s invitation to pick a fight with those who favor abortion in cases of rape and incest. She cited her opposition to the $700 billion TARP legislation in 2008 by saying that principle comes before party.

And she made sure to mention that she had worked as a tax attorney, raised five biological children and provided a home for 23 foster children.

Pawlenty and Bachmann, both from Minnesota and occasional antagonists in politics there, seem headed for a confrontation in the Republican straw poll to be held in Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 13. That’s a contest that puts a premium on enthusiasm — you have to get people to drive up to four hours on a Saturday morning.

Both have an obvious appeal to religious conservatives who have been the dominant force in Iowa Republican contests. Pawlenty has had a head start in organizing, and as a two-term governor has seemed to have a stronger claim to be a serious candidate. But the two came out of the debate seeming more evenly matched than he surely hoped.

Romney is not competing in Iowa as he did in 2008, when he won the straw poll but then saw second-place finisher Mike Huckabee beat him in the January precinct caucuses. Newt Gingrich is evidently not competing in the straw poll, either.

All of which makes it likely that there will be a real traffic jam in New Hampshire. Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum have to do well there to remain viable. Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and Obama’s ambassador to China, says he will announce next week and will concentrate on New Hampshire and Florida.

And the field may expand further. Rick Perry, governor of Texas, the state that has been America’s leading job-producer during the past decade, showed no interest in running until last month. But now he’s giving speeches in California and New York, and may be ready to saddle up. And Rudy Giuliani, whose 2008 campaign fizzled out, is eyeing New Hampshire, as well.

Then there is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, whose name was mentioned favorably 10 times in the debate.

Only two things that seem certain about the Republican race. Ron Paul will soldier on, bashing the Federal Reserve, to the end. And that the energy and enthusiasm on display Monday night will produce some twists and turns no one will predict.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >