One Question Each

One Question Each

By David Shribman - June 5, 2011

Even in Iowa and New Hampshire, where voters expect to meet each of the presidential candidates at least once, few people get a chance to ask them more than one question. For those of us who live elsewhere, even one question is out of the question. But if I had a chance to pose just one, here's the one I'd put to some of the major Republican contenders:

Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House: You may be one of the most important Republicans in the second half of the 20th century, having moved from gadfly to House Speaker, even as you moved the Republicans in the House from hopeless members of an oppressed minority into a robust majority. Still, hardly any of your former colleagues -- the ones who, presumably, owe you the most for their positions and influence -- have given your candidacy a second thought.

By definition, leaders have to have followers, which prompts this question: Why do Republican office holders shy away from you in such numbers and with such fervor, and, to reverse the classic formulation Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. applied to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do you combine a second-class personality with a first-class intellect?

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts: You're the front-runner -- and you face a problem at the front of the calendar. Last time out, in 2008, Iowa smacked you down, placing you 9 percentage points behind Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (but 12 points ahead of the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, which underlines the unpredictability of the state). Though you have high name recognition there, you are mostly known for not being enough -- not conservative enough, not consistent enough, not Christian enough (which is the prejudice that dares not speak its name).

You know that a smart governor, Bill Clinton, once skipped Iowa and won the whole thing. You might, too. But Clinton had a pretext -- the presence in the race of an Iowa native son, Sen. Tom Harkin. That's where Rep. Michele Bachmann may come in handy. Though she represents Minnesota in the House, she's from the aptly named Waterloo, Iowa. So: Do you compete in Iowa?

Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota: You're the new conservative darling, all the more alluring because you come from the state that spawned liberal darlings Hubert H. Humphrey, Walter F. Mondale and Paul Wellstone. (Not that conservatism, of the social nature, hasn't been flourishing in the state for the past quarter-century. It's just that few people outside Minnesota have noticed the sea change in the state that was the only one Mondale carried in 1984.)

But there remain nagging questions about your economic conservatism, underlined by the comments of former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson, who admittedly is no friend of yours. Still, you must answer this question: Did your actions as House majority leader and then as governor ease or exacerbate the current fiscal crisis in Minnesota?

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David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (

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