Race for Iowa: Romney, Gingrich don’t fit into conservative box
December 29th, 2011
Editorial note: We’ll continue our coverage of the GOP race for Iowa today. The caucuses are just a few days away, and KVNO News has been tracking the final candidates as our neighbors across the river size them up before casting their votes January 3rd.
Wednesday, we examined two candidates who made a strong start in the race, but have since struggled to keep their momentum at the polls: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Today, we’ll look at two more candidates who’ve been vying for the lead nationally: Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Omaha, NE – Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are two candidates leading in several polls as the GOP candidate of choice, but they’re difficult to fit into a conservative box.
Mitt Romney has spent much of his career in the private sector. And it’s his experience there that he emphasizes on the campaign trail. He’s worked as a business consultant and led an investment firm that restructured struggling companies to get them back on a profitable track. Speaking on CNBC’s The Kudlow Report when he first announced his run in April, Romney drew a sharp attack at President Obama for his economic skills.
“When it comes to the economy, the President has been incompetent,” Romney said. “He just hasn’t done what’s necessary to get Americans back to work. You’ve got roughly 20 million Americans who’ve stopped looking for jobs or can’t find work. And that’s just inexcusable in a nation that’s as productive and innovative as this nation.”
Romney also served one term as Governor of Massachusetts. And he touts his record of fiscal discipline in the state. But another part of his record has drawn more attention. Now common knowledge, Massachusetts passed healthcare reform under Romney’s leadership. And it included a mandate similar to the federal mandate under President Obama’s healthcare law. That’s become a signature issue in the GOP primary and has drawn the ire of the conservative base, and provided fodder to Romney’s rivals.
During a debate moderated by ABC News December 10, Romney argued his plan was designed to suit the people of his state. “The problem with President Obama’s plan is it does three things we didn’t,” Romney said. “One, it raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t raise taxes. Two, it cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t do that, either. And three, it doesn’t just deal with the people that don’t have insurance. It’s a 2,000-page bill that takes over health care for all the American people. It is wrong for health care. It’s wrong for the American people. It’s unconstitutional. And I’m absolutely adamantly opposed to ObamaCare.”
Watch Romney and Gingrich outline their differences in the ABC News debate at Drake University in Des Moines, IA Dec. 10:
Romney has also had to defend earlier positions on other hot button issues. He appeared more open to gay marriage and abortion as governor. And that apparent shift from left to right has kept some conservatives shopping for other candidates.
Paul Landow is a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He said Romney’s past puts him in a tricky spot in the primary, and in a different tricky spot if he makes it to the general.
“Republicans, in order to win general elections, need their conservative base to turn out,” Landow said. “And just a few percentage points here or there make a big difference.” But also very important, Landow said, is the independent vote. “And I think most people believe independents will be more likely to support Romney.”
A few points behind Romney is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich has a long history in political life. He served as House Speaker during the 1990s. And in an interview with Iowa Public Television last week, he said voters can trust him on the economy because of that record.
“The reason I know we can balance the budget is I’m the only person running who led the effort, and the only time in your lifetime, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets were because of my speakership,” Gingrich said. “Now I think people can look at that, when people learn that, it changes their minds.”
Gingrich rose in popularity at the polls after Herman Cain began his plummet. Supporters cite his penchant for big ideas and his debating skills. But his late-race surge has dropped significantly – from a 31 point high in Iowa to a current 14.3.
He was hurt further this week by newsletters unearthed by the Wall Street Journal that show Gingrich praised Romney’s healthcare plan when it first came out. He also supported an individual mandate during the fight for healthcare reform in the 1990s led by former first lady Hillary Clinton.
In the same ABC News debate in Des Moines, Gingrich defended that past.
“In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do,” Gingrich said. “After HillaryCare disappeared, it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them. People gradually tried to find other techniques. I frankly was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills while still leaving an out so libertarians to not buy insurance.”
But, according to Paul Landow, Gingrich’s surge is not likely to re-boot. His campaign has been plagued with organizational problems, highlighted again this week when he failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. And, Landow said, he doesn’t have the money to defend himself.
“Now that the Romney campaign in particular has spent millions of dollars pounding him in Iowa, he’s starting to slip,” Landow said. Referring to digs at Gingrich’s past marital infidelities, Landow said the attacks against Gingrich are working “because people are getting to know him, and they’re not approving of his personal life.”
Landow said Romney’s the only one who’s survived scrutiny at the polls, and the pundits are betting on him to take the nomination. But pundits have been wrong before. Friday, we’ll take a look at the final candidate in our series, and one who’s currently topping the Iowa polling charts: Ron Paul. Paul will be in Council Bluffs Thursday night for a town hall meeting at the Mid-America Center.
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