Thursday, March 3, 2011

WH 2012: Roemer's Running

I should have laid a few euros down with an Irish betting house that a Louisiana governor was going to seek the presidency in 2012.

Never mind that it’s not the Republican everyone expected to throw his hat in the ring.

Buddy Roemer, who last won an election in 1987- and didn’t receive an actual majority in that victory, announced on Thursday afternoon that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee- essentially declaring his intention to seek the Republican nod for the White House.

Amongst the local politicos, Roemer’s announcement has generated more than a few snickers.

What little national standing Roemer achieved as governor came at the expense of being a political asterisk during the 1991 gubernatorial election, better known as the “race from hell”.

Some have asked how can a man who couldn’t beat out a klansman and a crook for a spot in a gubernatorial runoff win the presidency?

Fair question and one that Roemer is going to have to get used to answering as he strives to establish himself as a credible contender.

Roemer attempted a comeback four years later though finished fourth for governor, which was his last bid for public office.

So why is Roemer running?

Did he get bit by the presidential bug while serving as one of John McCain’s surrogates in 2008?

Or is this Roemer finally getting around to chasing an ambition of what “might have been” in 1996 if the 1991 election had had a happy ending?

Is this the Roemer equivalent of a middle-aged man buying the Harley his mother and later first wife wouldn’t let him have.

Before the unpleasantness of 1991 Roemer, along with neighboring governors Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Ray Mabus of Mississippi, were considered “new south moderates” on the rise though only Clinton remained in office in 1992.

I believe a large part of what’s driving Roemer is simply that the bookish ex-governor has something to say about the state of things in America and wishes to be a part of the discussion.

Should anyone take Roemer seriously?

First, the current GOP likely presidential candidate field is weak. Not as awful as the pool from 2008, but not strong either. Though former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the leading candidate, he doesn’t occupy the catbird seat that Reagan had in 1980, Bush had in 1988 or even Dole had in 1996.

Secondly, Roemer represents that rare breed of politicians who have had success in the private sector. One of the strongest arguments made for Romney by his partisans is the need for a nominee with business experience. Roemer has that minus the RomneyCare baggage.

Third, Roemer is a gifted orator. As a former governor, Roemer will enjoy the same courtesy the media afforded ex-US Senator Mike Gravel during his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. In other words, he’ll be a part of the conversation via debate invitations where the silver-tongued Roemer will have an opportunity to carve out a niche for himself.

Though those invitations will start to drop off if the Roemer campaign doesn’t pick up.

Roemer will have to make the transition from being an agreeable speaker to a viable candidate in either Iowa or New Hampshire. By the time South Carolina’s primary rolls around it will be too late.

Beyond his shaky record as a candidate, Roemer is going to have to make something happen on a shoestring budget as he limited donations to individual contributions of no more than $100.

By doing so, Roemer is making a play to become the campaign finance reform candidate. The problem is that “c-note” candidates don’t win. Ask Jerry Brown, who tried the same thing in 1992. Furthermore, the voters simply don’t care about the issue.

McCain mightily tried to make the electorate care when he unwisely stood by his pledge to accept matching funds while Barack Obama used to a weak justification to expediently jettison his previous promise to do so.

Of the 59,950,323 votes McCain received, I would wager that not a single one appeared in his column because of Obama’s decision to engage in unlimited fundraising.

And it should be noted that Karl Rove cited McCain’s refusal to financially compete with Obama as a reason why the Republican lost so badly.

Odds are that Roemer’s candidacy will come to little more than tilting in Iowa cornfields.

But the man who suffered the ignominy of losing to Duke and Edwards also handed the most skilled Louisiana politician since Huey Long his lone defeat four years before. En route to that victory, Roemer also vaulted over US Representatives of some standing, future speaker-elect Bob Livingston and Billy Tauzin.

The man who humbled Edwards started that race in last place with 2%. And like the 1987 contest, Roemer isn’t going into 2012 as the favorite.

Just a bit of disclosure here as I kicked in $100 to the Roemer effort via his website, My first choice for president is currently a non-candidate, New Jersey governor Chris Christie- the only person on the radar that I think can defeat Obama, but more on that later.

While I don’t agree with some of the points he made in his announcement, Roemer is a smart guy who is going to make the early debates interesting. Furthermore, I hope he will shift his rhetorical gears to focus on economic matters that need to be discussed before a national audience.

A good presidential candidate should not neglect educating the public while in the pursuit of winning votes.

In the event I cover a Roemer event or interview the former governor, I will do so objectively.

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