Quad-City Times

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Romney stands alone

Like many Iowans, we've kicked the tires on the 2012 Republican presidential fleet of candidates, looking for the one who offers the best shot at substantively challenging President Barack Obama. After seeing all the candidates and interviewing five of them this season, the Times Editorial Board supports the one Iowans have kicked around the longest: Mitt Romney.

Before Romney even launched his 2012 campaign, he'd spent more time in Iowa than any of the current or former GOP candidates. Even with his limited 2011 caucus campaigning, Romney's 2007 through 2011 Iowa visits top every candidate in the current field.

During those visits, we've found an articulate, polished chief executive with a range of business and governing experience that far exceeds his rivals. More than any other caucus contender, Romney acts as if his sights are set on the presidency, not just a nomination.

Obama's toughest challenger

He has compromised in ways that frustrate some Republicans. But Republicans alone cannot elect the next president of the United States. We believe a Republican nominee capable of appealing only to the party's most conservative base will virtually assure Obama's re-election.

We do not want to see the president face a token challenge in 2012.

Romney presents a far more serious challenge than any other caucus contender.

Newt Gingrich's excessive baggage might be forgiven, if not forgotten. But his judicial witch hunt makes us nervous. Vilifying all judges seems a calculated move to enrage and engage the Iowa electorate that ousted three Supreme Court judges over their support of gay marriage. It seems a limited strategy for building a winning coalition next November. Gingrich may be comfortable with the constitutional implications. We are not.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry wisely dodged the mercenary GOP straw poll last August, but invested plenty of time and money in Iowa. He comes with pertinent executive experience, but lost us on his insistence that states can assume most critical federal regulatory and economic development duties. Quad-Citians are particularly attuned to differences in state government. We see lots to admire in Iowa; not much in Illinois. Those differences are too huge to accept that states can collaboratively elevate national competitiveness, education standards and perform other, pertinent federal roles. Perry boasts a commendable job-growth record in Texas we'd love to see the nation follow; not so much for his state's education and health care.

Rep. Ron Paul seems to be the only contender bringing new Republicans into the process. Some of his intriguing ideas enliven the campaign. Others, including a full foreign policy retreat, seem daft. Most of his ideas fail the governance test. In 12 terms in Congress, Paul hasn't demonstrated sufficient persuasive skills to rally a congressional majority, or even fellow Texas Republicans.

Rick Santorum's outsider label this campaign belies a deeply partisan insider history. His dogged emphasis on faith and cultural issues held back his caucus bid and, we believe, severely limits his appeal in a general election.

Bachmann's fervent ideology can't compensate for her world stage inexperience.

A winning strategy

Romney stands not as a last resort, but as a solid, first preference.

Like Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, Romney makes his second presidential bid as a much stronger candidate. We wished we'd have seen him more often this go-round. But his choice of a national - not just Iowa - strategy affirms our belief that his sights are set on the presidency, not just a nomination.

We support Mitt Romney in the Jan. 3, 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses.

Read more: http://www.qctimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/romney-stands-alone/article_932d5cae-3422-11e1-8924-001871e3ce6c.html#ixzz1iE5pulf5

Copyright © 2012 Quad-City Times, all rights reserved.  Reprinted by permission.

Mark Ridolfi, editor of the editorial page, provided the following summary of the paper's endorsement process (Jan. 19, 2012 email):

As each campaign arrived in our readership area, I extended e-mail invitations for editorial board meetings to each candidate's Iowa and national headquarters. I personally hand-delivered written invitations signed by our publisher to every candidate who campaigned in our area.

I personally reported from eight candidate campaign events in our area.

Tim Pawlenty contacted us in July, before any invitations had been issued. 

Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum scheduled interviews in the final month of the campaign.

Ron Paul and Herman Cain campaigns acknowledged multiple invitations, but did not schedule a visit.

Each meeting resulted in an editorial page describing the discussion. Below are links to those editorials, and to recordings of the full edit board meetings, which we shared with readers.

Endorsement process and purpose
Our interviews are intended to better know the candidate, not just her or his positions. We ask for leadership examples, about role models and contemporary advisors and try to probe about governance more than campaigning.

We explain to candidates, and to readers, that our endorsements are not intended to tell anyone how to vote. Instead, we regard endorsements as modeling behavior we hope all readers follow: Become familiar with the issues and candidates' positions; meet the candidate (a unique opportunity for Iowans) and make a decision. Our endorsement is our disclosure of that final step.

Consequently, we're less interested in an early endorsement. We don't intend for our endorsement to make headlines, or be used as campaign material. We published our endorsement the Sunday before the caucuses.

We also have conducted a First Vote campaign for the past three caucuses, bringing in first-time voters -- college and high school students -- to report on the caucuses. Because of the comparatively few candidate visits, our First Vote reporters focused more on voters than the candidates. Here is the Web site of my First Vote students from St. Ambrose University. We'll be continuing that project through this year.

This campaign, we asked each candidate to describe his or her first voting experience and we presented their stories the day before the caucuses.

This caucus season, most candidates waited until December to commit to an editorial board meeting. In the past, we've enjoyed earlier visits, and sometimes, multiple visits from a candidate.

We received far fewer caucus-related letters to the editor this year. Overall, our letter count remained on par; we simply didn't have the caucus commentary from readers.

I'm guessing this was because so many voters waited until caucus night to decide. Most of our locally prominent Republicans stayed mum this year, declining to formally endorse or take local campaign leadership roles.

Our endorsements represent our publisher's opinion, informed by ample discussion with our edit board. This year, there was deep consensus among editorial board members.

Our editorial board:
  • Publisher Greg Veon
  • Executive Editor Jan Touney
  • Columnist Bill Wundram
  • Community member John Wetzel
  • Editorial Page Editor Mark Ridolfi
Times political reporter Ed Tibbetts also sat in on all candidate interviews, but did not participate in endorsement discussions.

Here are our caucus-related editorials, including those derived from endorsement interviews. Audio of the meetings: