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Republican Primary Season: Early Voting States Critical

Q&A with UAlbany Associate Professor of Communication Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Rick Santorum is hoping a recent surge in the polls will position him to contend for the Republican nomination for President.
ALBANY, N.Y (January 3, 2012) -- Voters across the United States will soon decide who will be the Republican candidate for President. University at Albany Associate Professor of Communication Jennifer Stromer-Galley is an expert on presidential campaigns, political blogging, public opinion, and the role of the Internet in politics.

Stromer-Galley discusses the Republican field and the role of the early primary states in selecting the Republican nominee.

Q. Why has the ‘frontrunner’ status of the future Republican presidential candidate been such a volatile position to be in, and is this usually the case?

A. There often is some volatility in the months leading up to the primaries of either major party. However, it does seem that we have watched more significant volatility in the "front runner" position this election cycle than in the last five election cycles when there was a contested Republican primary. There are several reasons for the volatility. Some of it has to do with the pool of candidates. In several past election cycles, Republican Party elites did an excellent job of cultivating an heir apparent. There was not one coming into 2012.

Mitt Romney surfaced as such early, in part because he had run effectively in 2008 and his millions in personal wealth assured him a strong campaign in 2012. The problem for Republican voters is that Romney does not resonate with those who vote in the primaries. He is not viewed as socially conservative enough, seems to lack clear policy convictions, and as in 2008, he was repeatedly attacked on the health care law passed in Massachusetts when he was Governor.

Much excitement was generated around Texas Governor Rick Perry, but his campaign debut and his debate performances proved lackluster. More conservative voters turned their attention to former Godfather’s CEO Herman Cain. His oratory in the debates, his solid conservative agenda, and his tax policies initially generated excitement. The set of accusations of sexual harassment and marital infidelities led to his downfall.

I had expected Michelle Bachmann to be a more formidable candidate than she has been. Her appeal as the candidate of the Tea Party in the early days of this campaign season gave her an important advantage. She has not proved the formidable candidate and statements that she would defer to her husband if elected raised questions with voters about whom they were actually electing. As we move into the primaries, it appears to be anyone’s game.

UAlbany Associate Professor Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Q. What role do the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary play in the selection process?

A: These two states are critical for the candidates. Although there is much criticism about such homogenously white and middle class states initially vetting the candidates, they still are essential for establishing the top three candidates going into the next primaries and caucuses, which are the more demographically diverse states of South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada.

Q. Could there be a surprise candidate rise to the top?

A: Ron Paul is the candidate to watch. Paul has raised remarkable amounts of money from his dedicated followers. Although the main stream media does not cover Paul to the same degree as Romney or Gingrich, his organization and fundraising are superior, and his campaign uses social media effectively. For the dedicated conservative voter in the primaries, none of the candidates -- Romney, Gingrich, or Paul -- are especially appealing, so voters will factor into their vote calculus who is most likely to beat Obama. That calculation is anyone’s guess at this point.

Q. What role does President Obama and his presidency to date play in the Republican primary season?

A: President Obama and his presidency will become the focus of the candidates in the later weeks of voting in the primaries. In the early weeks, the candidates will primarily attack each other. Then, as the nominee becomes clear, he or she will shift attention to Obama, attacking the health care law, the high unemployment figures the nation still faces, the weak economy, the massive national deficit and debt, tax policy, and the unresolved war in Afghanistan.

Q. Is the media scrutiny of Republican candidates (or President Obama) higher than at any point in U.S. history? What is the role of social media?

A: No, I would not say that scrutiny is higher now than in past election cycles. Every contemporary election generates a frenzy of research on the candidates. It is a vital role of our national press to investigate the people who seek the highest office and help voters understand the candidates' background, issue positions, character, and leadership abilities.

Social media helps voters who have an interest in a given candidate to get more involved in the campaign. At the margins, social media can make a difference. In close primaries or caucuses, the candidate with a strong social media strategy might shift the vote two or four points in their favor, which makes the difference between winning and losing.

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