After months of rises and falls of candidates in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney has finally emerged as the clear frontrunner for the GOP in the 2012 presidential election. Whether he will be able to win the presidency, however, is less certain.
Since the beginning of the year, Romney has emerged victorious in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. How a candidate fares in both is often a good indicator of the future success of his or her campaign. But although he appears to have finally attracted a sizable chunk of GOP voters, he continues to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many Republicans.
“He’s just not appealing,” senior Karl Bair, a registered Republican, said. “He doesn’t look like somebody you could relate to, number one … and the man has no conviction whatsoever. He says whatever people want to hear.”
For sophomore Alex Uzarowicz, also a registered Republican, the lack of appeal is not just limited to Romney; rather, it is a fixture of the GOP candidate pool.
“The Republican Party has gone wild,” he said. “We’ve really lost our principles. Conservatives like myself, we’re looking for, well, not a loony.”
Such “loonies,” according to Uzarowicz, include Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, who both briefly enjoyed frontrunner status only to fall behind once their records and characters came under closer media scrutiny. In November, Cain suspended his campaign after sexual harassment charges surfaced, and Gingrich has dropped from the front of the pack to the middle since declaring Palestinians an “invented people” in early December.
As opposed to sticking strongly to his positions, regardless of their viability or appeal, junior Gretta Reed believes that Romney has chosen to focus on saying what will win him the GOP nomination.
“I felt like with John McCain [in 2008], whether or not I agreed with his policies, he was a … genuine person with very strong convictions, and I don’t feel that conviction from Romney,” she said.
Dissatisfaction within a party about its candidates is certainly not limited to the Republican Party. After failing to return the economy to its pre-2008 state, President Barack Obama has seen his approval-rating fall throughout his term. Still, Republicans remain pessimistic about their chances of unseating him in November.
“I think today, we have very bleak chances that we can beat Obama because the party is so divided,” Uzarowicz said. “Honestly, I think Obama should be celebrating.”
Junior Anna Novikova, president of the Knox Democrats, is less confident. While she believes that Obama will win the election, she does not think achieving victory will be a walk in the park.
“With the recession having been so much worse than we knew in 2008 and with the recovery being so slow and frustrating, I think the president has to worry no matter who the Republican nominee is,” she said.
Although the recession has exacerbated economic issues, Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini emphasized that the economy will always play an important role in elections, even though many voters may not understand the relationship between government policies and economic conditions, which could bode well for both Obama and Romney.
“As a result, candidates can say whatever they want, and it sounds plausible,” Civettini said.
Many top economists, for example, have argued that Obama’s stimulus package, while not a cure for the country’s economic woes, acted as a Band-Aid and may have prevented the loss of thousands of additional jobs. For the blue-collar worker who lost his job last year, however, the greater effect of Obama’s policies on the country is more difficult to see.
According to Civettini, however, policy often plays only a secondary role in winning elections. Money and image have historically proven to be much more important. The former determines how effectively a candidate’s advertising can target voters, and the latter determines the most visible part of that advertising.
“When it comes down to it, personality and personal characteristics matter at least as much as issues,” he said. “[Obama] is likeable. There was a reason he was so easy to elect in the first place.”
In regards to money, both Romney and Obama are well positioned going into the coming months. Still, despite the $29.2 million he has raised since starting his campaign, Romney may not have enough to pose a serious threat to Obama, who has raised $46.4 million, according to the news site Politico.
“[Obama] is in a position right now to spend more than has ever been spent combined by candidates in a presidential race,” Civettini said.
Even though factors would seem to point to her candidate winning the election, Novikova expresses lingering feelings of discontent.
“I’m disappointed that this election won’t be a chance for honest, high-level national dialogue about what we should be doing as a government and as a country,” she said. “I don’t think you can have that with the current crop of … politicians running on the Republican side.”
Check back for coverage of the New Hampshire primary in next week’s TKS.