By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
SUNBURY -- In less than a week, the slow-to-begin race for the Republican nomination for president has accelerated and undergone a dramatic shift, essentially becoming a three-way contest for the chance to challenge Democrat Barack Obama next year.
But how are their candidacies being received by the Valley's political insiders?
Lee Fessler, of South Williamsport, a spokesman for the Greater Susquehanna Regional Tea Party, said Monday that he hadn't had time to discuss the candidates with the party's board of directors, but he offered his personal thoughts on the candidates. "Michelle Bachman is a very strong candidate, and what I like most about her -- although I don't agree with all of her opinions -- is that she is consistent, and she means what she says," Fessler said. "Those are the kinds of politicians we need in Washington."
Fessler said he liked Rick Perry as a candidate. "Personally, he'd be my choice, but I don't think he'll make it. I think his very strong and outspoken Christian beliefs will not translate well to a general voting public."
Rick Santorum, Fessler said, "doesn't stand much of a chance, although he did surprisingly well in Iowa. People just don't know who he is. I don't think he's going to be the candidate this time around."
Beth Kremer, chairwoman of the Northumberland County Republican Committee, said it is hard to judge the straw poll in Iowa.
"After all," she said, "Michelle Bachman was born in Iowa. I have nothing against her, but I do think that gives her the upper hand in Iowa. I feel the straw poll is not a fair indicator of who will win the nomination. It costs $30 to vote, so it would seem that the person with the most money can easily get the most votes."
Historically, the Iowa straw poll is not the indicator of who wins the Iowa caucus or the nomination, Kremer pointed out. "As for Gov. Perry," Kremer said, "I feel that he changes the dynamics of the race. He is a very successful governor in one of the largest states who has a strong record to run on. Mitt Romney is a more moderate candidate who has a very solid economic background and has a lot to offer with his experience."
Santorum is a strong conservative candidate, who has friends all over the country, Kremer said. And Ron Paul is more of a Libertarian, with some views that do not align with the Republican platform. "Regardless of who the Republican nominee is, he or she will be a dramatic improvement over President Obama," Kremer said.
But Union County Democratic Committee Chairman Rick Thomas said the Republican frontrunners will appeal only to a limited number of people because they are polarizing. "There is not a lot of difference between Bachman and Perry," Thomas said. "They're both televangelists. What's Bachman done in Congress? Nothing. And Perry has created a lot of jobs -- low paying jobs. Is that his idea of job creation? The only alternative to any of them, I suppose, is Romney, and he is barely moderate. I don't like any of their candidates. But it's early in the season, so we'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, on Monday, GOP front-runner Romney declared his business background sets him apart in the presidential race and dismissed the buzz over emerging challengers as "the political winds of the day."
Perry insisted no one could go "toe to toe" with him, and rising star Bachmann tried to turn her Iowa straw poll victory into gains against both men.
Romney, who has been riding high for months while other Republicans have been struggling to emerge from the pack, now finds himself facing two significant foes in Perry, the Texas governor who formally entered the race only Saturday, and Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who won the Iowa straw poll that same day.
Over the next few months, Romney, Bachmann and Perry will try to win over a GOP electorate angry at the change Obama has brought and looking for a candidate who has the right mix of credentials to beat the incumbent Democrat.
Romney, who lost the nomination in 2008, hasn't been able to unite warring factions of the GOP electorate since entering the race earlier this year. Social conservatives and the tea party haven't warmed to his candidacy, and he has left some economic conservatives and Republicans in the party establishment underwhelmed. He's focused heavily on New Hampshire and has downplayed his campaign in Iowa, but that may change given that Bachmann and Perry, both of whom have support among the tea party and Christian evangelicals, are competing hard in this state where social conservatives dominate.
• With reporting by The Associated Press.