Alan Fisher - Journalist

Personal website of Al Jazeera English journalist, Alan Fisher

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Covering conflict

Posted on March 4, 2012 at 9:10 PM

Just over a year ago I presented my thesis towards earning an MA. My topic was one in which I was deeply interested. Not least because it touches on who I am. My topic was the work of "war correspondents", a job title I dislike but it is easy shorthand for describing one branch of journalism.

There is something special about the people who choose to work in difficult and dangerous places. They are regarded as the cream of the profession; the best, the most experienced. Andrew Marr, when he worked as a newspaper editor described them as the "unacknowledged aristocracy of journalism”.

One of the people I interviewed suggested every war correspondent has a fixed number of assignments in them. The lucky ones recognise it and move on. Those unlucky ones don't and get killed.

I've known a number of terrific journalists, people I would call friends, who have been killed doing their job. I admired and respected Terry Lloyd of ITN who was killed in the early days of the last Iraq war. I wanted to write like Kurt Schork of Reuters who was passionate and disciplined during the wars in the Balkans and was killed in an ambush in Sierra Leone. And I still think about Taras Protsyuk, a Reuters cameraman killed when an American tank fired at the Baghdad hotel where the journalists were staying.

Every time a journalist is killed in similar circumstances, I’m saddened. Wars need to be covered. And journalists are the bridge between conflict and normality, essential to the understanding of war and its impact.

But I also feel disconcerted in the way our profession lauds its dead. There is mawkishness to the coverage. We talk about the cost of bringing truth to the world, of highlighting the realities, of giving a voice to the voiceless.

It is a noble goal, yet many of those on the battlefield are there because of the glamour and excitement, because of the drama and the danger. They chose to be there, unlike those they are covering.

One of my interviewees summed it up when he told me ‘Covering wars and doing it well is the fastest way to build a reputation, to win awards and if you win awards, the bosses might treat you better. It can be a selfish thing’.

I have felt it myself; determined to do well, to put the story before the world, but knowing that covering conflict brings credibility and respect.

For some – it is the fast track to the top. It is why so many young journalists from many organisations wanted to cover Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’. It is one of the reasons I took a job there too.

And I worry if our reverence for fallen journalistic comrades then gets in the way of telling the story, which was the original goal, and perhaps discredits their efforts.

Only this weekend, the leader of the rebels in the Syrian city of Homs lamented that the western media paid more attention to the recent death of two journalists than the ‘tens of thousands of Syrians’. Paul Conroy is a British photographer who was injured when his colleagues died. He was eventually rescued and smuggled out of Syria. It should be remembered 13 local volunteers were apparently killed while trying to get him out.

Picking up one newspaper in the US this weekend, there is more written about the untimely death of a brilliant and talented New York Times reporter that there is about all the events in Syria.

Some war correspondents display levels of egomaniacal self absorption. They are there for the glory and fame. Yet for others there is a brilliance and dedication. They return to conflict zones because there is a thrill in the danger, a satisfaction in winning the respect of your colleagues. But there is also a commitment to tell a story. And the world needs people like that.

Struggling with the Symbolism

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Political symbolism is important. It’s why US politicians are frequently pictured in front of a flag. It’s why the faces in the crowd at rallies are always mixed. It’s why Mitt Romney ditched his suit jackets of four years ago when he was campaigning for President and now bounds onto the stage in check shirts and chinos or jeans. It’s all about making the multi-millionaire ‘more normal’, more like the people he needs to elect him President.

The other Republican candidates do it too. Ron Paul, the oldest man in the race, packs his rally with young people to reflect his appeal to a different generation. Newt Gingrich is more often than not pictured in a suit and a tie. It may be because he looks odd in casual clothes – a bit like seeing one of your teachers at the weekend – but it is more to carry the air of gravitas, to emphasis his belief he is the smartest man in the race.

Donald Trump knows a bit about symbolism. His campaign last summer questioning whether Barack Obama could produce a birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii was replete with it. Despite the rumours having being checked out and discredited, Trump continued to reproduce wild internet conspiracies and misguided theories to question if the President of the United States was actually ‘one of us’ and eligible to take the position. Trump – who was considering a run for the Republican nomination at the time continued his onslaught for months, called the President’s citizenship ‘ a scam’ and denied allegations he raised the question because Obama was black. However, his support from right wing Republicans soared during the controversy, which only ended when the actual birth certificate was published online.

And so now facing the longest break in the nominating process, the Romney campaign is questioning the symbolism of the high profile endorsement it secured just a few days before it lost three important contests.

Nevada was a state expected to be a banker for the former Massachusetts governor. It has a large Mormon population. He has campaigned there regularly and was well funded and well organized. Coming off a significant victory in Florida, he could expect to do very well.

And then, surprisingly, he announced he’d secured the endorsement of Donald Trump. The pair seemed such unlikely bedfellows. But voters were treated to the billionaire – known also as The Donald - politically embracing the millionaire who had just hours earlier in a TV interview said ‘he didn’t care about poor people’ (because they had a safety net). Romney - the man who has fought throughout the campaign against the accusations that he made his millions by taking over companies and sacking workers was now standing next to the businessman who is most famous in America for his starring role in the reality TV show Apprentice and uses the catch phrase of ‘You’re fired’.

The Democrats couldn’t resist and issued an instant web ad with the tag line ‘ They both like firing people’. And it underlined the argument – put forward by his rivals – that Romney was the chosen candidate of the moneyed Republican establishment rather than the rank and file party members.

It was a stunning miscalculation from a campaign that has successfully followed every win with a gaffe or mistake that causes real damage.

Mitt Romney won in Nevada. But it’d didn’t propel him to even greater success. He surprisingly lost the next three contests. Perhaps not all because of the endorsement of Donald Trump. However, the losses were deeply symbolic of a campaign in trouble, unable to find a groove and unable to consistently connect with voters.

Newt's 'Big Mo'

Posted on January 24, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Newt Gingrich likes to talk. He's a smart guy - a professor of American history and a former speaker of the House of Representatives. It's his love of debates that has thrown him to the front of the field of candidates hoping to secure the Republican presidential nomination.

He gives emphatic answers. He makes promises. He rightly addresses the format of the debates when he suggests that some of the issues raised, such as the economy or US relations with Pakistan, can't be summed up in a one-minute response and a 30-second rebuttal: that the world is slightly more complicated than that.

His message that Washington is broken, President Obama is awful and the "liberal media" is trying to alter America, resonates with Republican voters. Gingrich appears to have an intellectual depth missing from some of the other contenders.

Not long after he launched his presidential campaign in June, many of his senior staff and advisers walked out, believing he wasn't ready for the fight.

He struggled to gain traction in the early days, eclipsed by younger, more dynamic candidates who flared and faded. The self-proclaimed "best debater" in the party adopted an elder statesman persona.

Initially Gingrich refused to criticise his fellow candidates. He urged them to work together to defeat Barack Obama. That played well with many and was savvy politics, too.

He avoided alienating supporters of the other candidates, making him look like a unifying conservative force.

That soon disappeared, however.

In Iowa, he realised that he was getting nowhere [he finished fourth]. The main target of his attacks was Mitt Romney, the front-runner. He questioned the former Massachusetts governor’s role in a financial investment firm, asking if he made himself rich while laying off American workers.

The tone of the attacks made many in the Republican party uncomfortable, but in a country still recovering from the financial crisis, it gave some another reason not to vote for Romney.

His elevation to speaker in the mid-1990s was spectacular. His "Contract with America" was the centrepiece for the Republicans winning control of congress for the first time in 40 years.

But he constantly battled with President Bill Clinton and hinted that one of the reasons he forced a controversial shutdown of the federal government in 1995 was because he was made to fly in the rear of the presidential plane, Air Force One, during an official trip.

Gingrich left his first wife as she was battling cancer and, after marrying his mistress, cheated on her while he was in charge of the investigation into Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. He blamed working too hard as the reason for his affair.

That infidelity came back to haunt Gingrich in the past week, with his second wife claiming he wanted an "open marriage", to allow him to carry on an affair with the woman who is now his third wife.

Many thought this would shake his campaign, but in the last televised candidates debate he managed to turn a negative into a positive by using the question as a starting point for another attack on the media.

This, despite Gingrich himself insisting early on in the campaign that when picking a president, everything was up for examination.

He's also been caught up in an ethics scandal. A note to himself during that probe perhaps gives an insight into what Newt thinks of Newt.

He wrote: "Gingrich - primary mission advocate of civilisation, definer of civilisation, teacher of the rules of civilisation, arouser of those who fan civilisation, leader (possibly) of the civilising forces."

In 1998, one day after he led the Republicans to a disastrous performance in the mid-term elections, Gingrich quit as both speaker and as a congressman, famously saying: "My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is."

As he burst to the front of the field in the current race, Gingrich faced accusations that he took money from one of the federal housing agencies which played a big part in the current financial crisis.

And even though he says he criticised their policies, the $1.6 million he received ties him to a damaging scandal.

It was a sign, say his supporters, that people were taking him seriously and he was ready to take the White House.

The latest polls put Gingrich ahead, but his organisation in Florida is poor. His fund-raising, compared to Romney's, is also low. What he does have is momentum: ‘the big Mo’, as they call it here.

For Gingrich, hope lies in people investing in his vision for the future, rather than necessarily remembering his past.

A Bad Week for Romney

Posted on January 23, 2012 at 9:15 AM

It’s been a bad week for Mitt Romney. Ten days ago, he was looking at virtually tying up the Republican Party nomination with victory in South Carolina and moving on to Florida for the coronation.

But then things started to go wrong. He discovered he didn’t actually win the first contest in Iowa. A recount of the votes handed victory to his rival Rick Santorum. His performances in the two candidate debates in South Carolina were poor. Where before he appeared steady if unaccomplished suddenly he looked shaky and uncertain. Asked if he would release details of his tax returns, he joked and dodged and avoided, leaving many people to question what he was trying to hide. He said if he received the nomination, he would release them then. That didn’t go down well – so he suggested he’d release them when they were completed, which would be in April. Now he says he’ll release them on Tuesday. He admitted it has become an issue and he hasn’t dealt with it well.

Then he watched as a significant opinion poll lead in South Carolina disappeared in 72 hours to hand a stunning victory to former Speaker, Newt Gingrich. It’s a loss that again raises serious questions about Romney’s ability to win over large swathes of his own party.

And so, Romney is now campaigning in Florida. He has a healthy lead, he tied up many of the early postal ballots, but as we’ve seen leads can quickly change.

Yet there are many reasons why there is no need for the Romney campaign to panic.

It is well funded and well organised in Florida, much more so than Newt Gingrich or his other two rivals. That’s important because while the first three contests are about what they call retail politics- shaking hands and meeting voters face to face – Florida is so large the best way to get a message across is TV ads. And it is one of the most expensive states in the country in which to buy airtime. Gingrich even made an appeal for fresh funding during his victory speech in South Carolina, an acknowledgement his lack of finance could be an problem.

Then there is the election timetable. After Florida on January 21st, the contests that follow should favour Romney. There is Nevada on February 4th and Arizona on the 28th. Both have huge Mormon populations which many expect will largely back one of their own. There is also the vote in Michigan on the 28th, which is the state where Romney was born and grew up, where his father was Governor and where he won in 2008.

And there is the question of electability. National polls suggest in a straight match up with President Barack Obama, Romney would do better than any Gingrich or any other candidate. Although if the election was tomorrow, the polls say he still wouldn’t win.

Here’s the worrying thing for him and his campaign - the rapid disappearance of so many supporters suggests that Romney’s backing is soft, He remains vulnerable to attacks on aspects of his past and people still aren’t convinced that his work for an investment firm didn’t lead to the loss of many jobs while he was lining his own pockets.

Romney has changed tactics for Florida. We saw that begin with his speech to supporters in South Carolina. He’s gone on the offensive against Newt Gingrich, no longer leaving it to spokesman or prominent supporters. He is highlighting the well-known personal issues which surround the man who is now clearly his main rival. So a contest which has been rough and unpredictable up until this moment will become even more so. And it also means that this is a race that is far from over.

Perry says 'it's over'

Posted on January 19, 2012 at 2:55 PM

The departure of Rick Perry from the contest to be the Republican presidential nominee is not hugely surprising. It probably just came 72 hours before everyone expected.

The Texas Governor was a late entrant into the race – some people insist he had to be talked into running by his wife – and immediately surged to the top of the opinion polls. As a social conservative, strong on issues like abortion and gay marriage, he appealed to the right wing core of the party. He is a smooth political operator. I’ve witnessed him work and charm a room and connect with people on an individual level. He is an impressive politician.

But his big problem was the debates. There have been a lot of them and he hasn’t done well. In the most recent, the one that turned out to be Perry’s last , he described Turkey as being led by ‘Islamic terrorists’. It drew sharp criticism from a country that has long regarded itself as a strong US ally in a difficult region.

But he will be remembered for not remembering. He tried to recall the three government departments he would chop if he ever became President, could only name two and for a painful, cringe inducing 53 seconds stumbled and stuttered before punctuating the awfulness of the moment with an embarrassed ‘Oops’’.

From that moment, his ratings began to drop and he never really recovered. He limped home in fifth place in the first selection contest, the Iowa caucus, and announced he was to go back to Texas to consider what to do with his campaign. To all eyes, it appeared Perry was calling it quits. But after a jog the next morning, he decided he would re-enter the race and try to take South Carolina. He poured time, money and effort into the Palmetto state, but still couldn’t move his opinion poll ratings out of single figures.

After consulting with his wife and campaign aides on Wednesday night, he decided to avoid the embarrassment of a last place finish and left the stage while throwing his endorsement towards rival Newt Gingrich.

Many in the Republican party who don’t want Mitt Romney as the nominee thought Rick Perry was the answer. Unfortunately for him he folded because he couldn’t answer the questions asked of a prospective President.

The aura of inevitability

Posted on January 17, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Some Presidential election campaigns will end here in South Carolina. The candidate or candidates will come to the realisation that they cannot win the Republican nomination, that their vision of America has not been accepted by the majority and that despite the hopes and dreams, the hands shaken and the interviews given, that it is finally over.

Jon Huntsman has already left the field, lacking money and supporters, his 'ticket out of New Hampshire" not even good for a week.

To accept the thinking of the Mitt Romney campaign, then the contest is over. He has done what no other Republican challenger has, and that's win the first two nomination contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire. And they argue victory in South Carolina on Saturday - which has picked the winner in every contest since 1980 - will make him the presumptive nominee for his party. They are attempting to build an aura of inevitability.

The conservatives in his party don't like him. They've examined his record as Governor of Massachusetts and they see him as too moderate, too liberal and certainly not in line with their thinking and philosophy. They cite his past support of abortion rights and the passage of a health care system which closely resembles the national health care law pushed through by Barack Obama and is despised by large swathes of the Republican Party. There is a feeling he adopts positions which are more likely to win voter support, that test well with focus groups rather than ones driven by a deeply held philosophy. As a new book on Romney puts it: “strategy triumphs ideology”.

But for months, Romney has been the man to beat because the conservatives can't rally around a standard bearer. He has watched candidates flare and fade, and in South Carolina he faces three challengers who claim they are more conservative than him, more in tune with the base than him and as a result are likely to split the right wing vote and hand him a win.

Rick Perry - the gaffe prone Texas governor - on the night he finished fifth in Iowa said he was taking time to rethink his campaign. It seemed to be shorthand for walking away, but his backers appeared to have other ideas and urged him to take one last run in South Carolina. He's on course to finish last and will almost certainly step out if that's the case. But he will attract conservative support which could have gone elsewhere.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich remain the last two 'big dogs' of the right and will each attract substantial backing. No one candidate ticks all the boxes for the right. And while that wing of the party has been casting around looking for ‘Not Mitt Romney’, the split field has driven him into a commanding position. One single right wing candidate could have pushed Romney until the end, changed the face of this contest and given his campaign manager a few more sleepless nights.

In their desperation to drag down the front runner, to get people to switch allegiances the big dogs have growled and attacked, citing Romney’s time with an investment firm. They say he laid off workers in companies he took over, he slashed jobs and ruined lives to make himself rich.

Members of the party have been angry with the tone of the debate fearing it has simply handed Democrats a huge arsenal of soundbites to be re-used and repeated in the summer.

And despite it all, the latest polls show Romney is still likely to be the man who'll face Obama in November's general election.

Large parts of the Republican Party have never loved Mitt Romney. To win, he has to convince those who are fighting against him so strongly at the moment to unite in the desire and fight to replace Obama. He’ll be hoping that it true what they say; that Democrats fall in love with their candidate – Republicans fall in line.

Talking to the Taliban

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 7:40 PM

With news that the Taliban is stepping up 'political efforts' to find a solution to the violence in Afghanistan, I thought I'd report an article I wrote in October 2009 about Talking to the Taliban


When I arrived in Belfast for the first time, 17 years ago next month, it seemed to me the Northern Ireland question was one that could never be solved.

The IRA was committed to its long war, the British were too strong militarily to be defeated and if, somehow, the two parts of the island ever became one, what had been a problem for the British government would become a problem for the new government of a United Ireland. The militant loyalists – who had become increasingly well armed and much bolder – would do in the Republic what the Provos had done in mainland Britain for years.

Yet not more than two years later, I stood on the Falls Road on a warm August morning as Republicans celebrated an IRA ceasefire, a 'cessation of all military activities'. It was an historic moment which signposted the way things were to develop over the next 15 years. Deals and discussions replaced bombs and bullets, and despite the spasms of those who feel there's been a sell out, Northern Ireland is largely at peace.

A former IRA commander is the deputy first minister. Fifteen years ago, British and Unionist politicians wouldn't even shake hands with him, be in the same room as him or let his voice be heard on TV or radio. They said he had 'blood on his hands'. It is a remarkable transformation.

It seems a big leap from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan, but having covered both conflicts, there are striking parallels. Eight years in, this is regarded as a war that cannot be lost because of the fire power that is available to the Americans and their allies and because of the message such a loss would send around the world. Yet in many Western countries, politicians are fighting the perception that the war cannot be won.

Bodies return to the UK weekly, six Italian deaths had Berlusconi talking about withdrawal, the French lost three in appalling accidents in bad weather, the Canadians have suffered substantial losses, and while Germany provides troops that are not involved in combat operations, the majority of people there want their armed forces home. Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai is being accused of securing victory in the presidential election by adopting the old Republican mantra 'vote early, vote often'.

Osama Bin Laden knows there are splits in the international operation. On Friday, he issued his second message in as many weeks, urging Europe to pull their troops out of Afghanistan. He taunted leaders: 'An intelligent man does not waste his money and sons for a gang of criminals in Washington. It is shameful to be part of an alliance whose leader does not care about spilling the blood of human beings by bombing villages intentionally'. The Americans know they are vulnerable to that allegation.

The new man in charge of operations in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, had talked about a change in operations, to cut civilians casualties, to present the operation as more a joint mission with the Afghans, and to improve basic infrastructure even in the most remote places.

But there is a growing feeling that any military changes need to be met with diplomatic changes as well. Gordon Brown and David Miliband have talked about having discussions with the Taliban. Nothing much seems to have happened. Hamid Karzai has pleaded that any new strategy must include talking to the Taliban, even to Mullah Omar, who remains high on America's most wanted list. Low-level talks have been held between the Saudis and elements of the Taliban but nothing obvious has developed.

What has to be re-drawn is the definition of victory in Afghanistan. Hundreds of years and dozens of battles have shown that military victories are rare, so perhaps in the words of Lord Malloch-Brown, a former Foreign Office minister and United Nations deputy secretary general: 'The definition of victory in Afghanistan includes allowing elements of the Taliban back into the political settlement'. There are those who will howl and grab the headlines, calling this appeasement.

When Northern Ireland politicians were going through another of their crises, they went to South Africa to hear how they had transitioned from apartheid state to multi-party democracy, with all the baggage that entailed. Martin McGuinness told me that one of the most striking things he heard was Nelson Mandela saying: 'You make peace with your enemies not with your friends'.

Britain has already fought one long war. It can learn the lessons to avoid another.

(First published in the Scottish Review, October 2009)


Who is Rick Santorum?

Posted on January 6, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Rick Santorum won't win in New Hampshire.

The latest polls suggest the best he will do is finish third - but for a man voters struggled to identify just a few weeks ago, he has, through hard work and dogged campaigning, elbowed his way into the top tier of challengers for the Republican party nomination.

He spent a lot of time in Iowa. He went from meeting to meeting, diner to church hall, speaking with people, sometimes one on one, in each of Iowa's 99 counties.

When I visited the state in October, people were telling me he could be the big surprise, as the conservative-leaning voters in the state liked him and liked his message.

But as each of the revolving roster of front-runners in the Republican race has discovered, once you hit the front, people get a lot more interested in what you've said and what you've done in the past.

Santorum was the first of his family to be born in the US. A story he often tells on the campaign trail is how his grandfather travelled from Italy to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

When he had saved enough money, which took five years, he sent for his wife and children, including Santorum’s father.

Much of his politics is informed by his upbringing and his Roman Catholic religion.

A father of seven living children - an eighth was born prematurely in 1996 and survived for just two hours - he is deeply opposed to contraception ("it's harmful to women").

He has argued against same-sex marriage arguing that could open the door to other unacceptable relations, equating homosexuality with bestiality or pedophilia.

So outraged by such a suggestion, one columnist asked readers to redefine "Santorum" as a disgusting sexual term, which now appears high in Google rankings if you enter the senator's name.

Santorum wrote a book - always a starting point for any presidential campaign - called It takes a Family seen at the time as a reply and rebuttal to Hilary Clinton's It Take a Village.

Santorum argued "the influence of radical feminism" meant women found it more "socially affirming to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children".

Santorum got into the presidential battle in June last year - and immediately headed north to Iowa to begin his campaign.

While others used TV advertising to get their message across, the poor Santorum team couldn't match that media buy.

And so he fought a ground war of attrition, holding more than 350 campaign events across the state in the past seven months.

The pattern reflected his entrance into national politics in 1990 at the age of 32.

With similar tactics, he unseated a seven term congressman in a staunch Democrat district in Pittsburgh.

He unseated a Democrat when he moved up to the senate in 1994.

However, he hasn't held office for more than five years, rejected by voters as he tried to win a third senate term.

Santorum's18-point losing margin was historic, and in such an important general election swing state as Pennsylvania, throws a huge question over his electability.

During his tour in Iowa, he didn't just address the issues he knew would play well with the slightly older, more conservative, more religious voters that make up large parts of Iowa’s Republican party.

He talked about the economy and carried a reasoned and nuanced argument about rebuilding America's manufacturing base.

In towns where jobs have been shipped, it played well.

And there is his constant message on the threat from Iran, arguing military action is necessary to prevent it building a nuclear weapon.

The tall former senator, known as "Rooster" in high school for his refusal to back down from an argument, is likely to finish third in New Hampshire, far, far behind Mitt Romney.

It's a more liberal state, his conservative views won't play well there.

Santorum has already been heckled by students for his anti-gay stance.

But he knows the big battle for him is in South Carolina.

In two days after the Iowa result, his campaign received more than two million in donations.

It'll help him get his message across in the first southern contest and he's already spending some of that on TV time to introduce himself to voters.

But in South Carolina, he must establish himself first as the only strong conservative voice in the race, which would mean knocking out the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

And then he has to hope people see him as someone who can not only beat Romney but can credibly challenge Barack Obama in November.

The first is easier than the second - but a win in South Carolina and the rooster will be crowing.

Out of Iowa

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 8:40 AM

It was just before two in the morning when the head of Iowa's Republican Party walked onto the stage in front of the thinning ranks of journalists in the Polk Convention Centre in Des Moines to announce the result of the state's caucus.

After a record turnout of more than 122, 000, the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, topped the poll by just eight votes.

But even though he finished first, the big winner on the night was the new standard bearer for the right of Republican Party, former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum.

And that perhaps is an indication of the battle America's Grand Old Party has been having with itself over the past two years.

It believes Barack Obama is vulnerable and they could easily consign him to the history books as a one-term president, but they don't know what face to present to the wider American public.

Is it the rightwing, socially conservative candidate who chimes with the party's core supporter and can tap into the influence and cash from the Tea Party faction?

Or should it be the more moderate, mainstream Republican who may appeal to independents and disaffected Democrats but will only get the support of some Republicans if they hold their nose and cast their ballot?

Mitt Romney still remains the man most likely. He has the money and the organisation. For third place Ron Paul, his 21 per cent was impressive, but this is likely to be the high point of his Republican run.

What worries the party is that he opts back to his Libertarian roots and runs as he did in 1988 - as a third party candidate. That would suck in some Democrats - but it would damage the Republicans more. And they know it.

Rick Santorum will find his impressive performance in Iowa will attract some new best friends who'll pump in money. Certainly the decision of Michelle Bachmann to drop out of the race will help him.

Suddenly his voice emerges from the cacophony of candidates insisting they are the true conservative and that will bring access to a broader support and he will have access to important campaign staff who have suddenly become available.

Santorum will continue to hammer his anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-Iran message.

But he will also continue to talk about restoring America's manufacturing base which will play well in many places and many states which have struggled through the financial crisis.

And let's not forget he comes from Pennsylvania, a big important state in the primaries and in the general election.

Santorum's second place in Iowa was built through visiting each of the state's 99 counties, spending weeks shaking hands, kissing babies and talking to people one on one. He won't have the luxury of a slow burn now as the contests start to come up at speed.

And as a front-runner, he now attracts a lot more media and voter attention to his past and his record.

He'll compete in New Hampshire, but Romney, whose ties to the state are deep, will win there easily.

It will be the third contest in South Carolina which is where Santorum will have to prove he has what it takes as a genuine challenger to Romney and a big player in the Republican Party, and someone who could possibly match up with Barack Obama in November.

The Republican Hopefuls

Posted on January 1, 2012 at 9:20 AM

Michelle Bachman hopes her Iowa roots- she was born in the state - might give her an advantage when people make their decision on January 3. She briefly topped opinion polls in the summer, but her support has faded and she needs a good result, certainly top three, if she’s to continue.

Supported by the rightwing Tea party she has spent time on the campaign trail constantly hammering President Obama and his handling of the economy.

A former tax lawyer, she is the mother of five and fostered 23 other children which she often mentions on the campaign trail. A committed Christian, she says she found God at the age of 16; she is anti-abortion and against the teaching of evolution.

Those closest to her say she is much smarter than she comes across in the media and has the ability to engage and electrify crowds who turn up to see her.

Now a member of Congress for Minnesota, her performance in the later debates has improved her polling figures but she’s still likely to finish outside the top three.

Likely final position - 6th

Newt Gingrich is the self proclaimed "best debater in the party" and it’s his performances in the series of TV debates which have turned him into front-runner for the Republican nomination.

A former speaker of the House of Representatives, he helped fashion the Contract with America which in 1994 gave his party control of congress for the first time in more than 40 years.

But Republicans took the blame for government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 and paid the price in 1998 when they were hammered at the polls. Exit polls suggested voters greatly disliked Gingrich who was forced to step down.

His campaign for the presidency was almost over before it began when senior staff quit, complaining they didn’t think Gingrich was working hard enough. He opted to continue but has struggled in terms of finance and organisation.

Attacks from other candidates in the past few weeks have hit his poll ratings. And analysts believe his past - he’s been divorced twice and was fined for ethics violations while speaker of the house - may not play well with the Republican party’s conservative base.

As a former history professor, he’ll know the only former house speaker to be elected president was James Polk, in 1844.

Likely final position - 4rd

Jon Huntsman is a former Republican governor of Utah and the son of a billionaire. He also served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, a position which has caused more than a few difficult moments during his campaign.

He has chosen to present his two years in Bejiing as loyal service to his country rather than to the president’s policies - but it leaves him vulnerable to criticism.

One of two Mormons in the field, he served in Ronald Reagan’s White House and while in his early 30s, was appointed ambassador to Singapore.

His tax plan - based on what he did during his time in the governor’s mansion in Utah - has been given hearty endorsements by a number of influential organisations, including the Wall Street Journal. And with his business, diplomatic and administrative experience, he’s regarded by the Democrats as a genuine threat.

Yet he has failed to ignite Republican voters. He lags in single figures in the opinion polls, with most people saying they don’t even know who he is.

Huntsman has refused to do much campaigning in Iowa and his moderate positions on climate change and social issues such as same-sex marriage are unlikely to appeal to the state’s core Republican voters.

Likely final position - 7th

Ron Paul has emerged in recent days as a potential winner in Iowa. The Texas congressman has consistently polled in the middle of the Republican pack and can call on a young, committed following. His fund-raising is behind only the big hitters, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

The 76-year-old is best known for his anti war positions, arguing America should not be "the policeman of the world" and no longer get involved in the affairs of other countries.

He has argued with the other candidates over their positions on Iran’s nuclear programme. He is committed to cutting government departments and lowering taxes.

He unsuccessfully ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket and was involved in the early stages of the Republican nomination fight last time around.

His campaign has suffered a blow in recent days with the emergence of newsletters published in his name more than 20 years ago which have been described as "homophobic, anti Semitic and racist". The obstetrician denied direct involvement in the newsletters. He has disavowed them stating simply: "I didn’t write them".

While he remains outside the mainstream of US politics, Iowa always throws up a surprise in some form, and Dr Paul is hoping it will be him.

Likely final position - 2nd

Rick Perry reportedly had to be talked into entering the presidential race by his wife and declared his candidacy in August. He quickly soared to the top of the polls and pulled in significant amounts of money from Conservative republicans who believed he could be an alternative to front runner Mitt Romney.

But the Texas governor’s support leaked away due to a series of poor debate performances including the moment when he tried to recall the three government departments he would close, could name only two and after floundering for some time could only punctuate the awfulness of the moment with an "oops".

He hopes his record in creating jobs and reigning in budgets will help attract supports in the caucuses while his opposition to abortion, even in cases of incest and rape will rally evangelical Christian voters to his cause.

Likely final position - 5th

Mitt Romney has been at or near the top of the opinion polls since he declared his candidacy, and he’s watched patiently as each new challenger has flared and faded.

The former governor of Massachusetts spent lots of time and money in Iowa during his 2008 White House bid, but failed to win. It damaged him greatly. This time, he’s paid fleeting visits, deliberately lowering expectations.

He hopes his business background will convince Americans he is the man to help the recovery.

But many Republican voters view him suspiciously. First, there is his religion. He’s a Mormon, a branch of Christianity few outsiders really understand. And then they wonder if he’s a real conservative, pointing to his liberal record while governor of what was and is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. He signed into law a healthcare plan which many say was the blueprint for President Obama’s signature legislation which is loathed and opposed by Republicans.

Other candidates have consistently been urged or invited to challenge him - often from the right wing of the party.

His performance in the TV debates has been solid if unspectacular, but many have commented that he looks the most "presidential" of all the Republican candidates, and he consistently comes on top of the Republicans most likely to win support from independents and strongly challenge Obama.

Mitt Romney may not be the candidate most Republicans want but many believe eventually, he’ll be the one they get.

Likely final position - 1st

Rick Santorum’s last election outing ended in defeat. Trying to hold his senate in Pennsylvania seat in 2006, he lost heavily.

However, he is the candidate most often spoken of in Iowa as the possible dark horse in the race. He took up his senate seat in 1994 after four years in congress and quickly built up a reputation as a fierce opponent of Iran, abortion and gay rights.

Those socially conservative credentials are thought to play well with many of the state’s Republican Caucus goers. His fund-raising has been poor, but he’s spent a lot of time in Iowa and was the first candidate this time around to visit all 99 counties in the state.

Latest polls predict a Santorum surge and he might just gain enough momentum to keep his campaign going.

Likely Final position - 3rd