The front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, stands accused by his Republican allies of not being conservative enough. And he can’t deliver a speech to save himself. Texas Governor Rick Perry appeals to Evangelicals but his race may have already been run after finishing fifth in last week’s Iowa caucus. Similarly Jon Huntsman, the Mormon from Utah, who can’t seem to escape the fact he was Barack Obama’s hand-picked ambassador to China. (Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann has already dropped out.)

Nobody gives 76-year-old libertarian Ron Paul much of a chance, despite finishing third in Iowa and polling second ahead of this week’s New Hampshire primary. Newt Gingrich too, a polling loser who seems to have left his run for the White House too late. As for surging, frothing Rick Santorum? We’ll leave his assessment to Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan (admittedly a Paul backer) writing after the latest debate on Saturday: “Santorum is such a vile person it is hard for me to judge his performance. But he seemed to me to come off as the prize asshole he is: nasty, extreme, reactionary, callous.”

Yikes.

Somehow Republicans have to pick from this motley crew to challenge Barack Obama for the White House in November. With Australian politics still in a Summer slumber, the GOP race, if not the candidates, is captivating.

Our own eagle has landed. Guy Rundle is in New Hampshire ahead of the all-important primary on Wednesday morning Australian time. It’s his first stop in a gruelling state-by-state journey following the candidates and testing the pulse of a deeply divided nation.

Rundle’s rollicking 2008 election roadshow captured Crikey readers like never before, and won him The Age non-fiction book of the year prize. (No pressure.) His commentary this election year will be essential.

Oh, and welcome back. In US politics, at least, it’s going to be a long year …

Peter Fray

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