Top 10 2011 Turning Points in GOP Presidential Race

The topsy-turvey Republican presidential nomination contest has seen the rise and fall of several candidates in 2012. Here are the top 10 turning points in the race:

1. Rick Perry's Multiple “Oops” Moments

The Texas governor came into the race with a Republican electorate searching for someone that was more conservative than former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and able to beat Barack Obama. Perry was the one who would save the party from an otherwise mediocre field, pundits declared.

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After announcing his candidacy the same day as the Iowa straw poll in August, Perry quickly shot to the top of the polls with a double-digit lead over previous front-runner, Mitt Romney. Then came the debates.

In his first debate, he fumbled his words when given an opportunity to attack Romney. After five mediocre debates in September and October, Perry promised he would arrive better prepared and well rested for the next debate. The Nov. 9 debate in Michigan, though, would mark the defining moment of Perry's debate performances. He was unable to remember the third cabinet department he would eliminate from the government. “Oops,” he remarked.

“Oops” then became a defining word for Perry's campaign among the press corps as he followed with several other “oops” moments. He said there were eight (instead of nine) Supreme Court Justices and mispronounced Justice Sonia Sotomayor's name. He said the voting age was 21 and the election date was Nov. 12. And he said solar power company Solyndra was a country.

Perry dropped in the polls as quickly as he rose. The most recent polls show Perry with about six to seven percent support. A possible fifth or last place finish in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus threatens to doom his campaign.

2. Iowa Straw Poll: Bachmann Wins, Pawlenty Drops Out, Perry Enters

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) won the Iowa straw poll in mid-August. The news, however, was overshadowed by two other events that happened the same weekend.

Perry entered the race the same day as the Iowa caucus. It was a shrewd move. Bachmann's win was competing with Perry's announcement in the major political news stories that were reported on over the weekend. It served to blunt any momentum Bachmann might get from the victory. The tactic worked. The Iowa straw poll was the peak of Bachmann's campaign. She could become the first candidate to win the straw poll but come in last in the Iowa caucus.

The most important result from the Iowa straw poll was that it knocked former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the race. Pawlenty blew all his campaign money trying to win the Iowa straw poll, but finished a distant third. With a campaign in debt and little hope of being able to raise more money, he had little choice but to drop out.

The conservative base of the Republican Party is currently unsatisfied with Romney and unhappy with the alternatives to Romney. If the Pawlenty campaign had not made the blunder of betting everything on the Iowa straw poll, he may have been the front-runner at this point.

3. Herman Cain Drops Out

After Perry's decline, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza was the next to surge to the lead. He surprised many by winning the Florida Straw Poll at the end of September with over twice the proportion of votes of Perry, who finished in second place.

Cain seemed unstoppable for a time. Even when the news first surfaced that Cain had been accused of sexual harassment when he worked for the National Restaurant Association, donations to his campaign initially went up. Then came Sharon Bialek's Nov. 7 press conference accusing Cain of unwanted sexual advances and on Nov. 28 Ginger White alleged a 13-year affair with Cain. Cain also had a foreign policy blunder when, in an interview, he could not remember his policy on Libya. His support dropped dramatically and he left the race on Dec. 3.

4. Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie Decide Not to Run

There has been a group of Republican supporters working either behind the scenes or in the media (such as Bill Kristol) to urge another candidate to get into the race. The feeling was that 2012 is going to be a pivotal election and Republicans need someone who would be transformational. They wanted a candidate who could clearly articulate conservative principles in a contest against Barack Obama. None of the declared candidates fit the bill.

Three names kept surfacing – Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan (Wis.), chair of the House Budget Committee, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. If any of these had entered the race, it would look much different than it does currently.

5. Sarah Palin Campaigns to ... Not Run

Another potential candidate that might have shook up the race was the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee. Unlike Daniels, Ryan and Christie, though, Palin took a long time to give her answer, and looked much like a candidate as she was, supposedly, considering entering the race.

At the beginning of September, Palin gave a campaign-like speech to a Tea Party group in Iowa. She went on a bus tour that included New Hampshire and showed up at the Iowa straw poll. Eventually, though, she ended her non-campaign quietly, with a letter to supporters at the beginning of October.

6. Anti-Gingrich Onslaught Hits Iowa Airwaves

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, entered December leading the polls in Iowa and nationally. It seemed a dramatic turnaround for a candidate who had seen his campaign's entire senior staff quit in early June. By Dec. 31, though, he had fallen to fourth place.

During that period, Iowa voters saw a barrage of TV ads, from Ron Paul's campaign, and Rick Perry and Mitt Romney supported super-PACs. By one estimate, 45 percent of the ads in December were pointing out something negative about Gingrich.

7. Romney Gets Testy in Debates and Interviews

In debates and interviews, Romney is often calm, measured and thoughtful. There have been moments in the campaign, however, when Romney shows that he is no Seabiscuit – he does not perform better when he is losing.

At different points throughout the campaign, Romney has lost the lead to Perry, Cain and Gingrich. When challenged, Romney can be thin-skinned.

In one October debate he got into a heated exchange with Perry and put his hand on Perry's shoulder to try to get him to stop talking. In a mid-December debate, he bet Perry $10,000 that Perry was misrepresenting what he said in his book. And in an interview with Fox News' Brett Baier at the end of November, Romney became visibly irritated and declared, “this is a strange interview,” even though Baier was asking normal questions that any reporter would have asked.

8. Santorum's Turn to Surge

With a race that has been characterized by candidates surging to the lead then dropping off, while Romney remains at a steady 20 to 25 percent, it seemed inevitable that Santorum would have his turn (as The Christian Post predicted).

The most recent poll in Iowa, conducted by The Des Moines Register, showed Santorum in fourth place, with 15 percent. More importantly, though, is that the poll, taken over four days last week, shows Santorum's support growing during the week. Looking at just Friday, the final day of the poll, Santorum is in a statistical tie with Romney for the lead. Santorum, it seems, is surging at just the right time for a better than expected finish in Iowa.

9. Jon Stewart Slams Media for Ignoring Ron Paul

After the Iowa straw poll, Comedy Central's “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” slammed the media for ignoring the fact that Paul finished a close second behind Michele Bachmann.

“How did libertarian Ron Paul become the 13th floor in a hotel?” Stewart asked.

In an election where voters are angry with “the establishment,” the episode would provide Paul with additional anti-establishment credentials. Also, for a media sensitive to accusations of bias, the episode would likely help Paul later score additional news coverage.

10. Ron Paul's Racist Newsletters Surface (Again)

By mid-December, the Paul campaign seemed to be doing something that pundits said he could not – expanding his base. Then, accusations that he penned racist newsletters, which he has addressed in the past, resurfaced, and seemed to stall any momentum Paul might have had.

Paul, by giving inconsistent answers, did not handle the accusations well. At first he said he knew nothing about them. Then, it turned out that he owned the company that published them. Now, he says the he was the publisher, not the editor, so he was unaware of everything that was written in the newsletters.

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