It's been on for months, but Tuesday night marks the official start of the 2012 presidential race. Republicans in Iowa are finally gathering for their "first in the nation" caucuses. The outcome is still uncertain. But the stump speeches in Iowa make one thing clear: The big issue remains the economy.
Other topics, like foreign policy or national security, are rarely mentioned on the GOP campaign trail. And there's a name that rarely comes up: George W. Bush.
None of the Republican candidates has been eager to embrace the Bush legacy, which includes gaping budget deficits, near-record low approval ratings, and two wars.
"They (the Republican candidates) don't want the election to be about the Bush doctrine, the Monroe doctrine or the Cold War. They want it to be about Barack Obama and the economy," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Washington newsletter, The Rothenberg Political Report.
Rothenberg said until the Republican candidates are forced to address foreign policy in detail, they won't.
One candidate though does like to talk about foreign policy: Ron Paul.
"The constitution gives us no authority to police the world or get involved in internal affairs of other nations," said Paul at a recent speech. "Sure, there are a lot of countries around the world that aren't doing the right things. But if we want to change the world for the positive, what we need to do is change ourselves, set an example and let them emulate us when we get our house in order."
Paul advocates cutting all foreign aid, including assistance to Israel. When Paul was asked at a recent debate what the US should do to prevent threats from Islamic extremists in Somalia and the Middle East, he said, "Why don't we mind our own business?"
This isolationist approach has appealed to some voters. But it's also turned off a lot of Christian conservatives in Iowa, among them Steve Deace, a popular Christian conservative radio host in Iowa.
I met Deace at his home in West Des Moines. He said he'd be "fine" with any of three Republican candidates: Ron Paul, Michele Bachman or Rick Santorum. But Deace can't totally get on board the Paul bandwagon.
"What Christian voters are having a hard time reconciling with Ron Paul is this idea that if we just trade goods and services with our enemies, they will like us," said Deace. "And I think Dr. Paul is too smart to believe something that naÃ¯ve."
Deace can't accept Paul's hands off stance on the Middle East. For example, Paul said he would not support an attack on Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Deace finds that troubling.
"I think this idea that, well, it doesn't matter if the nation that is the central hub of Islamic terrorism acquires a weapon of mass destruction or not, I think that is, that's too cavalier for a lot of Christian voters to accept."
Ron Paul knows many conservatives feel this way. On his Web site, Paul has a 13-minute video detailing his stance on national security. It's titled: "You like Ron Paul, except on foreign policy."
The video has images of the hijacked planes hitting the twin towers on September 11th. Then Paul weighs in.
"They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there."
Political analyst Stu Rothenberg said talk like this probably disqualifies Paul for most Iowa Republican voters. Rothenberg said if Paul were to combine his libertarian stances on social and economic issues with a more traditional Republican view on foreign policy, it might sell.
"But in a sense, that would be a very different candidate than what Ron Paul is and has become," said Rothenberg. "And part of the reason he (Paul) attracted so much early attention, was these folks who were attracted to his foreign policy agenda."
When it comes to foreign policy, it's hard to argue that Ron Paul is pandering for a vote. Whether this translates into votes tonight in Iowa… We'll know shortly.
Iowa Capitol in Des Moines (Photo: Jason Mrachina/Flickr)