By Chris Cronin
Elm Staff Writer
The 2012 Republican Primary has been unusually close. Pundits have struggled to explain why the field remains so open. Here is one explanation you probably haven’t heard: these candidates are a bunch of losers.
Consider the 2008 Democratic primary, which quickly narrowed to a race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Obama’s legislative career began in 1996, with his election to the Ill. State Senate, where he served until 2004. He was then elected U.S Senator, where he served until he was elected President in 2008. During this 12-year period, his only major electoral loss was in a 2000 Democratic primary for an Ill. congressional seat. His opponent was Bobby Rush, at the time a four-term incumbent who continues to hold the seat today.
After a popular eight years as First Lady, Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000, re-elected in 2006, and by 2008 had never been defeated in an election. Even John McCain, who would eventually be chosen as the Republican nominee, had never lost a congressional election since his entry into politics in 1982, when he was elected U.S. Representative from Ariz.
Contrast these candidates with the current Republican field. Ron Paul first ran for the House of Representatives in Texas in 1974, a race which he lost. He was eventually elected to the seat in a special election in 1976 but lost it in a regular election the same year. He regained his seat in 1978 and served until 1984, when he left to launch a failed bid for the Senate. After briefly defecting to the Libertarian Party for a failed presidential run in 1988, he rejoined the Republican Party and was again elected to Congress in 1996. He has held the seat since then, including in 2008, when he lost the presidential primary to John McCain.
Newt Gingrich lost two primary elections for the same Ga. congressional seat, in 1974 and 1976, before finally being elected in 1978. While in Congress he was elected House Minority Whip in 1988 and then Speaker of the House in 1994. But after only four years as Speaker, he was found guilty of ethics violations and forced to step down when members of his own party rebelled against him. Gingrich resigned his position and his seat in 1998 and has not held elected office since.
Rick Santorum was elected to Congress in 1990 and served two terms before successfully running for Senate in 1994. During his time as Senator, he was a powerful ally of the Bush administration, and in 2006 declared that Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found in Iraq. In that same year, he lost his re-election bid by a landslide in what would be the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator since 1980.
Finally, out of all the Republican candidates, Mitt Romney has the fewest losses, but also the least time in electored office. In 1994, he lost a congressional bid in Mass. against incumbent Ted Kennedy. He was elected Governor of the same state in 2002, but only served for one term before leaving in 2006 to pursue a presidential campaign. In 2008 he lost the presidential primary to John McCain, winning just two delegates overall.
The record is clear. Each of the four candidates remaining in the Republican primary is intimately familiar with losing elections, and not one has been able to marshal a steady wave of political support. It takes an extraordinary candidate to unseat an incumbent president. Looking at the Republican field, I don’t see one.