Rookie GOP Candidates Lead to Campaign Blunders

The 2012 GOP presidential field's inexperience is leading to campaign blunders.

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The boom-and-bust popularity cycle of the GOP presidential candidates probably has as much to do with their amateurish campaigns as much as it does with conservative concerns about Mitt Romney, experts say. The former Massachusetts governor has run a nearly textbook campaign during his second presidential bid, while polls show his opponents have failed to maintain individual momentum thanks to the rigors and realities of running a presidential campaign.

But so far, Romney hasn't been able to runaway with the nomination and neither has anyone else.

[See GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.]

Jeremy Mayer, a political science professor at George Mason University, says the appeal of outsider candidates to the GOP base has led to a field full of campaign follies.

"This year, what's really different is that the Republicans are rejecting the common standards of qualification," he says. He attributes this as backlash over the election of Barack Obama as president, despite his thin resume.

"Part of their resentment and anger at this situation is shown by their support for people who by normal standards are jokes, like Herman Cain," Mayer says.

Nearly every candidate, with the exception of Romney, who has at one time been atop early polls has run into campaign trouble.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota peaked early and then plummeted in the polls, at first buoyed by Tea Party support and then undone by her inability to build beyond that base. Her New Hampshire staff recently quit en masse, leaking a damning memo about the national team's "rude, unprofessional (and) dishonest" behavior.

Texas Governor Rick Perry also entered the race with much fanfare, catapulting to an early lead in the polls only to drop sharply following a series of lackluster debate performances.

Then there's former Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain. Riding at the top of GOP opinion polls for weeks, the candidate has fumbled his response to allegations of sexual harassment against him while he was president of the National Restaurant Association.

[Check out political cartoons of the GOP field.]

Experts say the roller-coaster polls and political missteps are likely a mix of intense media scrutiny over an unsettled field, a reflection of what happens with 'outsider' candidates and proof that running for president is 'very difficult.' They also say history has shown every election cycle produces candidates that don't quite measure up for voters.

"Politics is kind of like sports – everyone feels equally entitled to opine on it and how it should be done," says Matt McDonald, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and a veteran of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. "It's not as easy to actually run a presidential campaign as people outside might think."

But McDonald also concedes that with the exception of Perry and Romney, the GOP field lacks seasoned presidential campaign hands.

"The Herman Cain example is probably a little worse and by all accounts he doesn't have established or experienced campaign professionals," he says. "The things that you've heard out of the latest episode are symptomatic of a campaign that doesn't know how to handle situations like we've seen this week or doesn't have a candidate that's willing to listen to them in how to handle situations like this."

[Vote now: Who's your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?]

Danny Hayes, a government professor at American University, said part of the story is the caliber – or lack thereof – of candidates in the race combined with this race's fluid nature.

"Because many of the other candidates remain viable, the campaign mishaps or these scandals are more of interest to the news media and political observers than they might be in an election where there was a more clearly defined frontrunner," he says. "It may not be that there are more mishaps, it just may be there are more mishaps among candidates who are perceived as viable at this point."

  • See a slideshow of the 2012 GOP contenders.