What's the Deal with the Republican Presidential Race?

Why is the Republican presidential race so volatile?

Posted Dec 06, 2011

We are now only a few weeks away from the first Republican caucuses and primaries. The volatility in the race for the Republican nomination has been amazing—polls have shown the lead shifting from Romney to Perry to Cain and now to Gingrich. 

But now with Cain suspending his campaign, will the volatillity end? Will the Republican nomination race settle down into a two-way battle between Romney and Gingrich?

I'm sure that in the coming days we will see new polling that will help us figure out where Cain supporters are going, but we may still likely to see more volatility in this race in the next few weeks.

The one thing that has been relatively constant throughout the past few months has been Republican voter ambivalence with Mitt Romney. While many talking heads argue that he will eventually be the Republican nominee, it seems that many Republican voters disagree.  

Recently the Los Angeles Times reported on some interesting focus groups that probed the opinions of typical Republican voters. The story noted that while these voters all wanted to see Obama defeated next November, that "none showed particular excitement about the current slate of Republicans hoping to run against him."

In particular, these Republican voters saw Romney as distant and unlikeable. When the focus group moderaters asked the participants to describe what family member each Republican candidate might be, Gingrich was described as a close family member, "a grandfather, a father, a favorite uncle." But Romney, who the talking heads think will be the eventual nominee, was described in distant and negative ways—my favorite, "The dad who's never home."

So these Republicans don't like Romney, but they also see that Gingrich isn't necessarily an ideal alternative. In another part of the focus group session, these voters brought up a number of negative associations regarding Gingrich, including words like "volatile" and "combustible."

Thus, Cain's apparent depature from the Republican race will shake things up again. Republican voters who are still looking for an alternative to Romney will start to take a closer look at his current primary rival, Gingrich. But if Gingrich lives up to his reputation, and stakes out controversial stands on issues that are important to Republican primary voters, these voters might instead begin to reevaluate some of the other Republican candidates.

On the other hand, Romney might shift his strategy so that he begins to connect more directly with Republican primary and caucus voters. If his cool and distant image changes to one where Republicans see him as a strong and energetic leader of their party, then Republican voters might start to shift quickly in his direction.

So my bet is on further volatility in the Republican nomination race, at least until we get through the first few primaries and caucuses, when we learn whether Republican voters will support Romney despite their misgivings, or whether they will turn to Gingrich or other candidates in the race.