With just two weeks to go before the 2012 primary season launches with the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3, decision time is nigh. The GOP field has been exceptionally volatile, with no less than five different front-runners, and it is easy to lose track of who is polling where or saying what.
With that in mind, the International Business Times has compiled comprehensive profiles of the seven candidates who have participated in televised debates. Brief descriptions of their professional backgrounds are below, and you can click on any candidate's name for a complete rundown of his or her positions. These profiles will be updated with new quotes and additional issues in the coming weeks.
Bachmann, a U.S. representative from Minnesota, was elected to Congress in 2006 and quickly made a name for herself as a passionate conservative. At first, she focused largely on social issues, touting her opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But as the Tea Party movement picked up steam in 2009 and 2010, she became an increasingly loud voice for fiscal conservatism. She founded the House Tea Party Caucus and was among a small group of legislators who argued, earlier this year, that Congress should not raise the federal debt ceiling in exchange for any amount of spending cuts.
Bachmann's critics point to her factual gaffes, such as her assertion that the HPV vaccine can cause mental retardation, and argue that she is unelectable. Her supporters, on the other hand, admire her uncompromising support for conservative principles and believe, as she does, that Barack Obama's approval rating is low enough to allow Republican voters not to settle for a moderate candidate. She is currently polling at 6.4 percent in the RealClearPolitics national average, 9.7 percent in the Iowa average and 3.8 percent in the New Hampshire average.
Gingrich was elected to the House of Representatives in 1979 and was the minority whip from 1989 to 1995 before becoming speaker of the House. He was one of the architects of the 1994 Republican Revolution, in which Republican candidates won over voters with the Contract with America and took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. His time as speaker was marked by a series of clashes with President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and by internal strife within the Republican Party. In one of his most well-known acts as speaker, he went toe-to-toe with Clinton on the federal budget, forcing two government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. Later, in 1998, he became the first-ever speaker of the House to be sanctioned on ethics charges. He resigned the following year and has spent the time since on consulting work and health care policy.
Some of Gingrich's critics say that he lacked leadership skills as speaker of the House; others say he is too much of a Washington insider or point to his two extramarital affairs. His supporters see his extensive governing experience as a plus and believe he is the candidate most familiar with and qualified to address the nation's economic problems. He is polling at 27.6 percent nationally, 15.7 percent in Iowa and 20.8 percent in New Hampshire.
Huntsman was the governor of Utah from 2005-2009, but he has spent most of his career serving in presidential administrations. He was a White House staff assistant under Ronald Reagan, deputy assistant secretary of commerce under George H.W. Bush and deputy United States trade representative under George W. Bush. He also has experience in diplomacy, having served as the United States' ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993 and ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011. He is known for his bipartisanship, and he has held high-level positions under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He identifies as a conservative, but he has a more moderate reputation than many of his fellow Republican candidates.
That reputation is a problem for voters in the conservative wing of the Republican Party, some of whom worry that, if elected president, Huntsman would govern as a moderate. But his supporters see his center-right platform as a plus, arguing that it combines conservatism with a willingness to work productively across the aisle. His poll numbers remain low overall: 2 percent nationally, 4.3 percent in Iowa and 11.8 percent in New Hampshire.
Paul has been a U.S. representative from Texas continuously since 1997 and on-and-off since 1976. Before that, he was a doctor, serving as a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force from 1963 to 1968 and then as an obstetrician-gynecologist until 1976. As an OB-GYN, he delivered more than 4,000 babies. As a politician, he has made a name for himself as a libertarian, supporting fiscal conservatism, a non-interventionist foreign policy and an eclectic set of social policies. He is also the author of numerous books and articles on libertarianism. He has run for president twice before: he was the Libertarian Party's nominee in 1988 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in 2008.
He has a very devoted following, especially among young voters. His supporters praise his ideological consistency and sincerity and contrast him to corrupt and cynical politicians, while his critics claim that his economic policies are extreme and his foreign policy views isolationist. His support has increased substantially in recent weeks, and he stands at 12.4 percent nationally, 21.7 percent in Iowa and 16.5 percent in New Hampshire.
Perry has been the governor of Texas since 2000, making him the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Before that, he was a captain in the United States Air Force from 1972 to 1977, a U.S. representative from Texas from 1985 to 1991, state agriculture commissioner from 1991 to 1999 and then lieutenant governor through 2000. He also spent time in the late 1970s and early 1980s farming cotton with his father, a longtime county commissioner and a Democrat. The younger Perry was himself a Democrat until 1989, and he even supported Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988.
He entered the presidential race in August and immediately shot to the top of the polls before collapsing after a series of poor debate performances. His supporters tout his gubernatorial record, particularly his economic record, although some people question whether the picture he paints of Texas is accurate. He stands at 6.6 percent nationally, 12 percent in Iowa and 1.8 percent in New Hampshire.
Romney was the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. That came after an unsuccessful run for Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in 1994 and a widely praised stint as CEO of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, in which he brought the Games back from the brink of financial collapse. Before 1994, he was a successful businessman, working at the Bain & Company management consulting firm before co-founding Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm. He is an observant Mormon, having graduated from Brigham Young University and spent two years as a missionary in France.
He was considered the de facto front-runner for the 2012 Republican nomination after losing to John McCain in 2008, but he has struggled to gain the trust of the party's conservative wing, which sees him as a flip-flopper. His poll numbers are 24.6 percent nationally, 20.3 percent in Iowa and 33.8 percent in New Hampshire.
Santorum was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2007, when Democrat Bob Casey Jr. beat him, 59 percent to 41 percent, the largest-ever margin for a Republican incumbent senator in the state. He began his political career as a a U.S. representative from 1991 to 1995. Before that, he was a lawyer whose clients included the World Wrestling Foundation, and he returned to law after losing his Senate seat. He is known for being a staunch conservative on social, fiscal and foreign-policy issues alike, and for pushing conservative legislation throughout his time in Congress.
His supporters admire his steadfast conservative views and the bluntness with which he expresses them; his detractors, on the other hand, see some of his positions -- for instance, his opposition to birth control -- as extreme even for conservatives. He is polling at 3.8 percent nationally, 6.3 percent in Iowa and 2.5 percent in New Hampshire.