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Professor reflects on Republican primaries

Taylor Couillard-Rodak | Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The unpredictable Republican primary elections have decreased the chance of the party’s nomination of a strong opponent to face President Barack Obama in the November general election, according to Michael Kramer, associate professor of Communication Studies at Saint Mary’s College.

Despite the relative state of chaos throughout the primary season thus far, Kramer said some trends have emerged among the candidates.

“The big trend has been the changing winners, from [Rick] Santorum down in Iowa, then [Mitt] Romney, and then most surprisingly [Newt] Gingrich in South Carolina,” he said. “No one has been able to get any sort of momentum or hold onto it.”

Kramer said each candidate faces personal obstacles on the road to the election, and these obstacles have hindered the candidates from accumulating solid voter support that will last through the November general election.

“With Romney, [people] talk about his financial status and how he is part of the one percent. People will be looking to see how they can portray him to look as sort of an elite, an out of touch wealthy person,” he said. “With Gingrich, he has to deal with some of his past activities in relation to his funding.”

Kramer said the status of the economy is the most pertinent issue for voters during this election season, especially in terms of finding a candidate they can trust to lead the country out of its current economic doldrums.

 “There’s a scrutiny of the financial status of the candidates now that the voters, especially in South Carolina, turn their attention on because they are looking for someone who isn’t tied too closely to big businesses or to lobbying,” Kramer said. “Right now they’re not really finding someone who totally fits that bill.”

While voters generally look to debates for information about candidates, Kramer said the debates thus far have seemed to disappoint voters in their almost theatrical quality, as evidenced by sketch comedy shows and news reports mocking the debates.

“At times, [the debates] have been somewhat of a spectacle.  You’ve had the audience playing somewhat of a participatory role, in terms of applauding and cheering certain things,” he said. “That type of behavior makes you shake your head a little bit about the debates and how they’re being handled.”

But the debates have openly displayed candidates’ campaign strategies to voters, Kramer said.

“Gingrich is being rough and tumble. He is using really sharp language, doing some name-calling. That’s not the type of campaigning that Romney is comfortable doing,” Kramer said. “They’ve shown which candidates can handle the rough and tumble of campaigning. Romney has not stood up as well to the attacks, where Gingrich has.”

Kramer added the debates have focused heavily on social issues, but he thinks voters would prefer to hear candidates’ ideas about the current economic state of the nation and how they will be personally affected by potential future economic policies.

“Many of the voters are left alienated by the debates. They want the focus to be on improving the economy instead of several social issues that, for now, are not the most pressing things in their mind,” Kramer said. “They want a job, to have more spending money, to have higher wages. That’s what they want the candidates to talk about.”