2012 sees the US Presidential elections – one of the biggest political events in the world. Due to the country’s unique brand of democracy, campaigning for the top job is on an almost perpetual cycle and now it is time for the two parties to choose their candidates. Fortunately, the Democrats are keeping Barack Obama as their leader, leaving the country free to concentrate on the race for the Republican nomination.
The field is crowded, with nine candidates having officially entered the race. The front runner is Mitt Romney, a former Governor of Massachusetts and son of a former Governor of Michigan. Mr Romney ran for the nomination in 2008 but lost to John McCain, having one some early primaries. This year he is once again leading the pack and seems set to stay ahead, so far at least. However, the nomination procedure puts emphasis on grass roots support, which Mr Romney does not have. This is mainly because he is a Mormon, whereas many Republicans are evangelicals and see him as belonging to a suspicious cult. Others even doubt his republicanism, mainly because, as Governor of Massachusetts, he introduced a health care bill that was almost identical to the one Mr Obama put forward this year. In Republican eyes, that is tantamount to heresy. Mitt Romney will need to do a lot of work to convince voters that he is a true Republican, but if he can do that he is well on the way to fighting Mr Obama come 2012.
The other strong candidate is the current Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. Mr Perry has the advantage of being sufficiently evangelical, but he also has a reputation for being fiscally conservative having balanced Texas’s budget books. Therefore, he encompasses the party’s two main ideals – small government and traditional Christianity. His presence in the race is putting pressure on Mr Romney to explain his past, but Mr Perry himself will face strong opposition from Michelle Bachmann, the darling of the ultra-conservative tea-party movement, whose popularity has increased now that Sarah Palin has formally announced that she is not running for the nomination. She is the most conservative of the possible victors, having tried to pass an amendment banning the state from recognising same-sex marriage during her time as a Senator in Minnesota.
Other candidates include Ron Paul, a social libertarian whose main focus is cutting all spending including the Republican’s cherished defence budget. He is unlikely to win the nomination, because he is seen to be on the fringe of Republican policy. However, he has a following of very vocal and fierce supporters who refuse to let him lose the limelight. The other candidates each have their own agendas and supporters, but are not popular with Republican grandees and have no chance of facing Obama at the polls. However their presence energises the front runners and keeps the debates going.
Although this race does not determine who will win next year, it is hugely important. The Republican’s choice of candidate will change how the election is fought and which party independent voters will support. It may have an effect on the crucial swing states. Most importantly, if the Republicans do win it will determine the next President’s policies in office. The question is whether the party will choose to put forward a typical conservative or a tea-party radical. The implications of that will be far-reaching, not least for domestic affairs and foreign policy – and that will affect the entire world not just the US.