The next 98 days will be a time of testing for the men and women running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
With the field largely settled, the three months between Memorial Day and Labor Day amount to the first extended period in which the candidates must learn how to interact with one another and, more important, with voters.
There will be at least three debates during this time: one in New Hampshire, one in Nevada, and one in Iowa. The contenders will report their fund-raising totals for the preceding three months in mid-July, a make-or-break moment for some. Then comes the Ames straw poll Aug. 13 in Iowa, the first real test of grass-roots energy and organizational heft for the wannabe nominees.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who plans to announce his bid Thursday in New Hampshire, is considered the front-runner at this point — a position strengthened by the decisions of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels not to enter the race.
“Romney has been running an incredibly disciplined campaign, not allowing external forces to determine the strategy or timeline they think is best,’’ said Christian Ferry, a Republican strategist and deputy presidential campaign manager for Senator John McCain in 2008.
Romney, who raised more than $10 million in a single day this month, plans to work heavily on fund-raising before the July filing deadline — a showing that will, at least temporarily, strengthen his hand as the leading GOP candidate.
Without Huckabee in the race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is now well positioned to win Iowa’s caucuses, a victory that could give him more credibility in the New Hampshire primary and beyond.
Less predictable is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China, who appears to be in the race.
Working for Huntsman are his personal wealth, his relative newness on the national stage, and a foreign-policy expertise that is lacking in the field. Possibly working against him is his time spent working for Obama, as well as his support for civil unions and cap-and-trade energy legislation — positions that have created the idea that he is the moderate in the race.
The rest of the field is largely jumbled at the moment, although Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who is expected to announce her decision on a candidacy next month, is regarded by some as a potential winner of the Iowa caucuses.
The other question is whether former House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia can recover from a difficult start to become a legitimate factor in the race.
Other possible candidates include former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who began a East Coast bus tour Sunday that is stoking speculation about her renewed interest. She has not set a timetable for a 2012 decision.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has opened the door on a bid, but his closest allies still cast doubt on the idea. — WASHINGTON POST
Business executive Herman Cain, who has declared his candidacy, attended a Memorial Day observance in Hampstead. Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, is planning to visit today, meeting with Ruger Firearms employees in Newport and speaking at a Young Republican fund-raiser in Manchester.
On Thursday, Romney is expected to kick off his presidential campaign at a Stratham farm. Huntsman is expected to visit Friday.
Palin’s East Coast bus tour might include New Hampshire. — ASSOCIATED PRESS