And they’re off!

The horse race for the Republican presidential nomination is officially under way with the Iowa caucuses. Who will pull up lame, and who will win it down the home stretch?

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Republican hopeful Mitt Romney

Watching the press coverage of the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucus was like watching a horse race: Announcers breathlessly telling viewers the latest results; charts and graphics that looked more like the screens of a sports-book in Las Vegas than political coverage.

In reality, Iowa chooses only about 1 percent of the total delegates to the national conventions. So focusing so much attention on this process is more about the hoopla than the impact.

What Iowa does do is weed out the also-rans and focus attention of a few frontrunners. And unlike a horse race, the winners in Iowa are less important than the losers.

Already Michelle Bachmann has dropped from the field and I expect John Huntsman to soon do the same. Texas Gov. Rick Perry probably should have dropped out, but he insists on plugging on despite his dismal showing in Iowa.

That leaves four contenders for the Republican nomination in the field — and none of them are even remotely LGBT friendly. In fact, Rick Santorum’s strong finish in Iowa will almost guarantee a tougher line of anti-LGBT rhetoric from the remaining candidates. Each one will be trying to out-conservative the other and the “family values” canard will rank high in their strategy.

Santorum, pushing his socially conservative views, managed to bubble up through other candidates like Gingrich, Bachmann and Perry and strike a note with evangelical voters. According to some polls it is because of his “strong moral character,” code for being anti-LGBT and anti-choice. But the truth is, those two issues are not enough to carry him to the White House. And I suspect the GOP knows that.

A lot of Santorum’s success was due to his very effective ground campaign in Iowa. He spent a lot of time in the state and focused on his key constituency — and that falls outside the mainstream GOP profile.

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Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

Meanwhile, Texas Congressman Ron Paul surprised everyone with his third place finish in Iowa. Personally, I hope he decides to run on a third party ticket. He might split so many votes away from the Republicans that President Obama will have a clear path to re-election.

And then there is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The biggest problem for the GOP is that Romney is just so, well, Mitt Romney. It seems that everyone wants someone with more charisma and momentum than Mitt, but they just can’t figure out who that might be.

For now, it looks like Romney will be strong in New Hampshire and South Carolina. His organization is well funded and has a great infrastructure in the remaining states, whereas Santorum will have to scramble to keep up.

I suspect Romney’s biggest challenge will be Newt Gingrich, the man who came in fourth in Iowa. While he most likely doesn’t have the staying power to win the nomination, Gingrich does have a grudge — and that can go a long way.

The Romney campaign and Ron Paul heaped negative ads on former House Speaker Gingrich, and it really showed at the caucuses. Now the question is whether Newt and his super-PAC money will fire back with equal vehemence.

Of course, we all know the Super-PACs do not coordinate with the campaigns (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), so that remains a mystery.

So, what does all this mean for LGBT Americans? Well in my opinion, it’s probably a good thing.

As the GOP candidates try to “out-socially-conservative” each other, their real feelings about LGBT rights will become clear. There are no friends among this group of candidates, and considering how much LGBT Americans have gained in the past few years, I seriously doubt much of our votes or money will go to anyone as far to the right as this field of contenders looks.

As this horse race comes down to the wire in November, the real question is: Can the Obama campaign do enough to remind LGBT citizens why they should support his re-election? Will President Obama’s opinions finally evolve to the point where he can actively support issues like marriage equality? Will LGBT voters be willing to risk losing the gains of the past four years, like the repeal of DADT?
Personally, I think the smart money will bet on President Obama in the home stretch.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas