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The Real Questions For The GOP Contenders

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AMES, IA - AUGUST 11: (L-R) Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman shake hands after participating in a two-hour Republican presidential debate in the Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University August 11, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. This is the first Republican presidential debate in the state ahead of Saturday's all important Iowa Straw Poll. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

AMES, IA – AUGUST 11: (L-R) Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman shake hands after participating in a two-hour Republican presidential debate in the Stephens Auditorium at Iowa State University August 11, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. This is the first Republican presidential debate in the state ahead of Saturday’s all important Iowa Straw Poll. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Many of the GOP Presidential contenders debated in Iowa on Thursday, just ahead of the Iowa straw poll this weekend.

While they talked about a variety of important topics and questions, it seems that the two most important questions never came up.

If I had a chance to ask the candidates two questions, they would be the following:

Why do you think you will be able to raise $1 billion to compete against President Obama’s $1 billion?

How do you plan to simultaneously convince the GOP base and independent swing voters that you are more likable and Presidential than Barack Obama?

All of the other issues pale in comparison at this point in the campaign. There will be plenty of time to contemplate illegal immigration, how to handle Iran and our growing deficit. But right now, the real issues to consider for the GOP are winnability, fundraising and winnability.

Even in a weakened condition, and in a weakened economy, Obama will be a formidable foe for any GOP candidate. That might sound preposterous to some of my conservative friends. However, revisiting recent history will remind us how powerful an incumbent can be.

Former President George W. Bush, entering his re-election campaign in 2003, was in a far weaker position and polling far lower than Obama is currently. And while the economy isn’t helping Obama, Bush was tied to an extremely unpopular war and the economy in 2003 wasn’t exactly humming along either.

However, what George W. Bush had going for him was the ability to raise money from his base and a Democratic opponent that independent voters couldn’t rally around. Sen. John Kerry said all the right things on the issues, but found a way to not be likable enough to the voters that counted, namely the ones in the middle.

When Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter a one term President, he struck that magical balance between motivating his base and attracting independent voters. And he also owed a debt of gratitude to the Ayatollah of Iran. But he won the key factors first.

When Bill Clinton made George H.W. Bush a one term president, he also struck the magic balance and had to send a thank you note to Ross Perot.

Both of those relatively recent feats were accomplished with the key elements of likability and strong fundraising from their respective bases. And the feats were both made against Presidents in far worse shape than Barack Obama.

So while the GOP straw poll in Iowa may anoint a GOP front runner or a new dark horse favorite, until one of the GOP contenders can prove they have can strike the magic balance, they don’t have what it takes to defeat Barack Obama.

That won’t stop them from claiming they have what it takes, or from criticizing every decision Obama has ever made. But even they know that until they can prove those key elements, they’re only fighting over who comes in second place.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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