the month of June, 2011.
In June, the contest for the Republican nomination for president entered Phase Two, and the field of candidates was almost finalized. Over the course of the month, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann all officially entered the race. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin stayed out of the race, leading many to conclude that she will not run; she made no commitment either way.
The key moment of the month was the debate on June 13th. It was the first major debate of the primary season, though five candidates (including Gary Johnson) debated in early May. Conventional wisdom crystallized about the relative strength of some of the candidates. Mitt Romney, who topped all of the state primary polls after Mike Huckabee's departure in May, solidified his position as the frontrunner. He was not seriously attacked on the Romneycare issue. Tim Pawlenty appeared weak at the debate for failing to challenge Romney. His low poll numbers gave his campaign the impression of being in dire shape.
Michele Bachmann's appearance at the debate, combined with Sarah Palin's absence, marked a transition. Before, much attention was given to Palin. Bachmann shied away from getting into the race because she feared Palin might run. With no official word from Palin, Bachmann jumped into the race. A feud developed between the two, particularly after Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, made disparaging remarks about Palin. But Bachmann was composed at the debate and did well in an Iowa poll. By the end of the month, the media turned its attention away from Palin and toward Bachmann.
Meanwhile, Herman Cain struggled to maintain his position as the Tea Party's favorite candidate. Before Bachmann got into the race, he got plenty of attention. Unfortunately, journalists and voters sensed weakness in Cain as they got a closer look at him. With Cain's honeymoon period wearing off and Bachmann's honeymoon beginning, Cain quickly lost ground.
June was a disaster for Newt Gingrich, whose campaign suffered a series of mass resignations. Gingrich kept calm and carried on, but was written off by the media. The campaigns of Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman struggled to get off the ground. While Huntsman at least got some media attention, no one could quite articulate why Huntsman was running.
Rick Perry showed increasing signs of entering the race. He had previously denied that he would run, but suggested he might change his mind. A vacuum remained in the race, as most Republicans felt that the field of candidates was unsatisfactory. Perry likely perceived mixed reactions from voters as to whether they thought he could fill the void.
Chris Christie remained in the public eye, but under the radar as far as the 2012 primary was concerned. He was repeatedly questioned by interviewers whether he would run, and he continued to deny that he would. Elephant Watcher's calculation of the odds was relatively unchanged throughout the month; Christie maintained a huge lead with a 66% chance of winning the nomination. By the end of June, the sense of a void in the field was as great as ever. But Perry may attempt to fill it before Christie can.