­­­An editorial by Gary Nager

Although I still consider myself to be apolitical, the fact is that I’m a registered Republican who (like most members of the media, or so I hear) leans much more towards the middle of the road than the average member of the Tea Party.

As those of you who have been reading these columns for more than four years already knows, I endorsed President Barack Obama over the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, in 2008, primarily because I felt a) that Obama did a better job in the debates than the Arizona senator and b) I had a real problem with McCain’s chosen running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But, that’s old news and there’s no doubt that three full years after Obama took office, the U.S. economy as a whole has not rebounded the way it seemed to me it might back at the end of 2010 and that our nation’s budget deficit has flown past the $10 trillion mark for the first time with little or no end in sight if the current president is reelected — especially if by winning a second term, Obama’s coattails help shift the balance of power in the U.S. Legislature away from the Republicans.

So, while the early parts of the race to become the 2012 GOP nominee held minimal interest to me (I kind of liked Herman Cain early on, but the only candidate with no previous political experience rightfully dropped out of the race following multiple scandals that took on a life of their own in short order), I have started to follow the race to oppose Obama a little more closely.

Since Cain’s exodus, it seemed until a month or so ago (as in prior to the South Carolina primary on January 21) that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would all but cruise to the nomination. Romney has finished first or second in all four primaries to date (including his big win here in Florida on January 31), and his double-digit win over former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Florida, following the reverse outcome in South Carolina definitely has put his bid to become the first Mormon president in U.S. history back on track.

Gov. Romney, who has the perfect “look” to play a president in the movies, looked a whole lot less presidential in the final debate prior to the SC primary, as he fumbled and stumbled to answer questions about when he might release his personal tax returns and how many years of said returns he would release. Since then, it seems his new debate coach has done wonders to restore his chance to win the GOP nod.

Many have already called this the most negative campaign between two frontrunners in recent memory — long before Obama would even have to concern himself with either the former Massachusetts governor or the former House speaker, who seem to be putting some distance between themselves and candidates three and four, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and long-time Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Speaker Gingrich, who always comes off as the most “powerful” and polished of the four remaining GOP candidates, was able to whip up on Romney in SC, despite having to deal with an allegation by one of his former wives that he had asked her for an “open” marriage. Now that Romney is back as the frontrunner (he was favored to also win the Nevada caucus as we went to press), Gingrich’s always-headline-worthy personal life may not become as much of the focus of the campaign as it seemed, at one time, it would be.

I honestly thought that Sen. Santorum — who is still a distant third in the race, despite being declared the winner of the Iowa caucus after Romney was originally named the winner there — has actually done the best job of focusing on his positive attributes and distinguishing his platform from that of Pres. Obama in the recent candidate forums. I don’t know if Santorum can win the GOP nod, but if I’m looking for someone with a proven conservative agenda who looks and sounds presidential and clearly distances himself from all things Obama, Santorum’s my guy. I actually voted for him in Florida’s primary, despite the fact I’m not quite the anti-abortionist he is, although I also honestly think he’s young enough to have another chance to run for President in the future.

Perhaps the most personally likable candidate is the same doctor and Libertarian who also may have the most unique ideas about how to fix this country is Rep. Paul. He doesn’t cut nearly as imposing a figure as the other three candidates but, as long as he continues to trail the field, he can continue to fly under the radar and at least impress more and more voters with his unique economic and political agendas. By now, it’s obvious he has little or no chance of winning what his campaign folks call “a marathon, not a sprint” towards the Republican nomination, but he could still run as a Libertarian or Independent candidate, despite his advanced age (76, which would make him the oldest man ever to win a U.S. Presidential election, two years older than Ronald Reagan, who was 73 when he won his second term in office).

Of course, once a Republican candidate is selected from this field, that candidate’s selection of a running mate could still change how I will vote — and who I endorse — in November. I preferred Obama to McCain in 2008, but once the latter chose Gov. Palin to stand alongside him, I felt much better about that choice.

Will Romney maintain his lead and cruise to the nomination or can Gingrich catch him? I definitely look forward to seeing how the rest of the process plays out this time around.

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