MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
The unpredictable Republican field for president gets a predictable addition today. Mitt Romney is making his candidacy official in New Hampshire. Now, Romney is as close to a frontrunner as the Republicans have at the moment. But even at this relatively late date, there are other candidates who might or might not join in.
NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now, to talk about all of this. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Okay, so Mitt Romney, we just said he's the frontrunner. Is that a good place to be, right now, in the Republican contest?
LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. It used to be the Republican Party once was very hierarchical nominating the vice president, or the guy who came in second for the nomination last time, which you could say Mitt Romney is. But the party's been in a non-hierarchical mood, lately, and we don't know whether Romney will be able to appeal to the Tea Party base. Now that being said, he is consistently at or near the top of the polls, nationally, and way ahead in the first primary state of New Hampshire. He certainly has raised by far the most money, including a one-day haul of $10 million recently. Still, he's not a clear or prohibitive front runner and there are lots of Republicans who have doubts about whether he can win the nomination or the general election.
KELLY: And in terms of the issues, what is he expected to focus on in the campaign?
LIASSON: Well, he's certainly building his campaign around the economy. He believes he has a strong case against President Obama. His brand is a business man who's created jobs, and he argues that the president hasn't created enough and he can.
KELLY: Now, meanwhile, we seem to be hearing an awful lot about Republicans who are not officially in the race, Republicans like Chris Christie, Republicans like Sarah Palin.
LIASSON: Yes, that's true. The latest Washington Post poll shows that four in ten Republicans are not happy with their choices. Now that's not unusual at this point in the race, but it's one reason why they seem so interested in the so-called fantasy candidates - people who aren't running, or at least not yet. Sarah Palin was mobbed on her bus tour around the country. Recently New Jersey Governor Chris Christie entertained a delegation of Iowans who were begging him to get into the race. Rick Perry caused some Republican hearts to flutter when he said he would think about running. In the latest CNN poll, the top three candidates were Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. So two out of the top three candidates probably won't run, or certainly haven't done anything to begin running.
KELLY: And how late can they wait, Mara? Is there sort of a drop dead date by which, if you're going to run, you've got to announce?
LIASSON: Well, most people think the drop dead date is by the fall. This race is certainly getting off to a very slow start and one of the things that late starters don't have is the gift of time to become better candidates. Most people who run for president for the first time, including Barack Obama, by the way, are not very good and they need time to work the kinks out of their performance and their stump speech. It's nice to be able to do that before everyone is paying attention to you. And that's not going to be the case for Republicans who get in very late.
KELLY: Very late. You know, it's interesting that Republicans seem reluctant to dip their toes in the water, I mean, because it would seem that President Obama - it seems that he might be vulnerable, particularly on economic issues.
LIASSON: Well, there's no doubt about that. Unemployment is still very high. We learned the other day, that housing prices are at their lowest point since 2002. Factory orders are also low, so it's a very, very halting recovery. This is clearly the biggest hurdle for the president. That being said, he has all the advantages of an incumbent, an unchallenged incumbent without a primary of his own. So while he is vulnerable, he has a lot of strengths and I think that is what's keeping some Republicans out of the race - deciding maybe they can wait, if they're young enough, until 2016.
KELLY: Until 2016? All right, thanks very much, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
KELLY: That's NPR's National Political Correspondent, Mara Liasson, updating us on the news. Mitt Romney is making his candidacy official, today, in New Hampshire.
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