Romney EDITORIAL BOARD Romney_Edit_Board_2

Republican Presidential hopefull Mitt Romney answers questions from the Quad-City Times Editorial Board. Wednesday December 28, 2011. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Larry Fisher

Like many Iowans, we've kicked the tires on the 2012 Republican presidential fleet of candidates, looking for the one who offers the best shot at substantively challenging President Barack Obama. After seeing all the candidates and interviewing five of them this season, the Times Editorial Board supports the one Iowans have kicked around the longest: Mitt Romney.

Before Romney even launched his 2012 campaign, he'd spent more time in Iowa than any of the current or former GOP candidates. Even with his limited 2011 caucus campaigning, Romney's 2007 through 2011 Iowa visits top every candidate in the current field.

During those visits, we've found an articulate, polished chief executive with a range of business and governing experience that far exceeds his rivals. More than any other caucus contender, Romney acts as if his sights are set on the presidency, not just a nomination.

Obama's toughest challenger

He has compromised in ways that frustrate some Republicans. But Republicans alone cannot elect the next president of the United States. We believe a Republican nominee capable of appealing only to the party's most conservative base will virtually assure Obama's re-election.

We do not want to see the president face a token challenge in 2012.

Romney presents a far more serious challenge than any other caucus contender.

Newt Gingrich's excessive baggage might be forgiven, if not forgotten. But his judicial witch hunt makes us nervous. Vilifying all judges seems a calculated move to enrage and engage the Iowa electorate that ousted three Supreme Court judges over their support of gay marriage. It seems a limited strategy for building a winning coalition next November. Gingrich may be comfortable with the constitutional implications. We are not.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry wisely dodged the mercenary GOP straw poll last August, but invested plenty of time and money in Iowa. He comes with pertinent executive experience, but lost us on his insistence that states can assume most critical federal regulatory and economic development duties. Quad-Citians are particularly attuned to differences in state government. We see lots to admire in Iowa; not much in Illinois. Those differences are too huge to accept that states can collaboratively elevate national competitiveness, education standards and perform other, pertinent federal roles. Perry boasts a commendable job-growth record in Texas we'd love to see the nation follow; not so much for his state's education and health care.

Rep. Ron Paul seems to be the only contender bringing new Republicans into the process. Some of his intriguing ideas enliven the campaign. Others, including a full foreign policy retreat, seem daft. Most of his ideas fail the governance test. In 12 terms in Congress, Paul hasn't demonstrated sufficient persuasive skills to rally a congressional majority, or even fellow Texas Republicans.

Rick Santorum's outsider label this campaign belies a deeply partisan insider history. His dogged emphasis on faith and cultural issues held back his caucus bid and, we believe, severely limits his appeal in a general election.

Bachmann's fervent ideology can't compensate for her world stage inexperience.

A winning strategy

Romney stands not as a last resort, but as a solid, first preference.

Like Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, Romney makes his second presidential bid as a much stronger candidate. We wished we'd have seen him more often this go-round. But his choice of a national - not just Iowa - strategy affirms our belief that his sights are set on the presidency, not just a nomination.

We support Mitt Romney in the Jan. 3, 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses.