Pity the Republican voter. Presidential candidates of varying degrees of quality coming and going at head-spinning speeds. Just as the lineup looks like it’s falling into place, whiplash strikes.
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For those looking for clarity, here’s the good news. Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Herman Cain are running. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are making it official in early June. Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann are getting closer.
By the time the major candidates are expected to spar for the first time in a June 13 debate in New Hampshire, the Republican field could be pretty much set. A spokeswoman for CNN, which is broadcasting the debate, said participants will be announced in the coming week.
“We are now seeing activity picking up dramatically and the upcoming June debate will no doubt be the kick-off to a long hot summer of campaigning,’’ said Christine Baratta, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Republican Party. “Voters don’t like paying $4 dollars a gallon for gas and they are really looking to see which candidates will step up and take on President Obama.”
But in the absence of a commanding frontrunner, the field remains remarkably volatile, especially for a party that usually plays favorites. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that he is thinking about a White House bid, though a spokesman later dismissed his remarks. Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is reigniting talk about her political ambitions with a bus tour of American historical landmarks beginning Sunday in Washington. A group of Iowa donors is trooping to New Jersey on Tuesday to nudge Gov. Chris Christie into running.
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And if Rudy Giuliani was looking for encouragement to jump in, it came Friday in the form of a CNN poll that showed the former New York City mayor leading the pack. Giuliani, who recently said he was considering out another presidential campaign, was favored by 16 percent of the Republicans surveyed, statistically tied with Romney at 15 percent.
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In a weird coincidence that highlights the unpredictability of the race, Giuliani is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party on Thursday, the same day Romney is slated to launch his campaign from the state.
It’s a far cry from the last presidential campaign, when both Romney and Giuliani were both up and running full tilt by February, 2007.
Still, the 2012 field has congealed substantially in the three weeks since the first GOP debate on May 5 in South Carolina, in which Pawlenty was the only participant viewed as having a real shot at the nomination.
Most of the campaigning over the next few months will take place in the states that host the earliest nominating contests. Iowa is at the front of the line, followed by New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and most likely, Florida.
On the same night of the June 13 debate in New Hampshire, the Iowa Tea Party will kick off its inaugural bus tour with a debate-watching party. The tour aims to showcase the candidates and train between 500 and 1,000 grassroots activists, in about 18 stops over three weeks, said Ryan Rhodes, chairman of the Iowa Tea Party. The tour will culminate in a July 2 rally in Des Moines with several candidates.
Cain, Santorum and Johnson have already reserved the stops where they will deliver speeches. Rhodes said he’s expecting to lock down dates for Gingrich, Pawlenty, Paul and Bachmann on Friday.
Rhodes said Romney is unlikely to participate and that he hasn’t reached out to Huntsman, who recently returned from an ambassadorship in China. Rhodes hasn’t heard from Palin, which leads him to believe that she’s not running for president.
“I’ve been close contact with people on her staff and they’ve avoided Iowa like the plague,’’ he said. “I can’t imagine a candidate running and not coming to Iowa.’