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Candidates in the 2012 race to the White House

A general view of the North Lawn of the White House in Washington January 24, 2012.

JONATHAN ERNST/Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Mitt Romney (R)

Name: Willard Mitt Romney Age: 64 Education: B.A. English, Brigham Young University, 1971; MBA, Harvard University, 1975 Family Status: Married to Ann Romney since 1969; five children

Political History: First ran for office in 1994, losing to Ted Kennedy for Senate seat by a margin of 58-41 per cent. He had better luck in his second attempt at public office, running unopposed in the Republican primary for the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts and defeating Democrat Shannon O'Brien to become governor. After raising his profile as the feature speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention, Romney ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, winning 11 primaries/caucuses, but he would eventually drop out of the race and endorse John McCain.

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Background: Romney has a strong record in business as head of venture capital firm Bain Capital, and won huge plaudits for his high-profile turnaround of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. As governor of Massachusetts, his highest profile move was his overhaul of the state's health care, which featured a system of mandatory insurance and is noted as a precursor to President Barack Obama's controversial health care reform. His business experience has won him the support of the party establishment, who see him as a competent economic manager who has the best chance of defeating President Obama in November. But his perceived lack of vigour on conservative issues, and what his critics describe as his changing positions on hot button issues like abortion, gay rights, abstinence, and stem-cell research, have left very conservative Americans doubting his candidacy.

Quote: "Like other presidents before him, Barack Obama inherited a recession. But unlike them, he has made it worse, not better." - USA Today (2009)

Newt Gingrich (R)

Name: Newton Leroy (Newt) Gingrich Age: 68 Education: B.A. History, Emory University, 1965; M.A. & Ph.D. Modern European History, Tulane University, 1971 Family Status: Married to Callista Gingrich since 2000; two children from his first wife.

Political History: First ran for office in 1974 in Georgia, losing to 20-year incumbent Democrat Jack Flynt. He was again defeated in 1976. However, in 1978, with Flynt retired, Gingrich won the district, and would be re-elected six times. In 1983 he founded the Conservative Opportunity Society, a group dedicated to the advancement of conservative ideas, which was eventually adopted by then-President Ronald Reagan. After Georgia's districts were redrawn in 1992, Gingrich was elected in a new area by a 51%-49% margin. In 1994, Gingrich, in collaboration with several other Republicans, developed the "Contract with America," noting ten policies they would bring to the House floor in the first 100 days if they were elected. The GOP would pick up 54 seats, in what is now called the "Republican Revolution" and Gingrich became Speaker of the House. During his tenure: he helped balance the federal budget, he attempted to remove President Clinton from office, he faced several ethics charges, and was held responsible for the federal government shutdown of 1995-1996. He eventually resigned his position, after the Republican party lost five seats in the 1998 midterm elections.

Background: As former Speaker of the House and an architect of the "Contract with America," Gingrich is certainly a powerful candidate in the Republican field. However, his campaign got off to a rocky start in the summer when, just a week after entering the race, he criticized a Republican budget plan, hurting his popularity. One month later, the majority of his staff walked off his campaign, citing personal differences. The Gingrich campaign appeared to flame out, paving the way for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, until the fall, when he posted a string of strong debate performances by casting himself as a Washington outsider. His aggressive attitude towards the "elite media" when asked about his extra-marital affairs, his attacks on Mitt Romney ahead of the South Carolina primary, and strong debate performances resulted in a resounding win in the Jan. 31 South Carolina primary. The former congressman has promised that he will take his campaign all the way to the Republican national convention in Tampa Bay, Florida, in August.

Quote: "You want to be a country that creates food stamps? Then frankly, Obama is an enormous success - the most successful food stamp president in history. Or, do you want to create jobs?" - Town hall event (Meredith, N.H., January 2012)

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Rick Santorum (R)

Name: Richard John (Rick) Santorum Age: 53 Education: B.A. Political Science, Pennsylvania State University, 1980; MBA, University of Pittsburgh, 1981; J.D., Dickson School of Law, 1986 Family Status: Married to Karen Garver Santorum; seven children

Political History: Santorum was elected to the Senate in the "Republican Revolution" of 1994, defeating incumbent Democrat Harris Wofford 49%-47%. He served as the representative from Pennsylvania between 1995 and 2007. Santorum lost his second re-election bid in 2006 to Democrat Bob Casey Jr., receiving 41% of the vote to Casey's 59%. From 2001 until his defeat, Santorum served as the Senate's third-ranking Republican.

Background: Lacking the business success of Mitt Romney and political experience of Newt Gingrich, Santorum has based his campaign around his brand of social conservatism. Throughout his campaign, he has espoused strict views on abortion, gay rights, energy and climate change, contraception, and what he perceives to be Sharia law encroaching on the United States. He has routinely invoked the tradition of family as an example of American strength, saying it must be protected. During debates, he has been a staunch supporter of Israel and suggested bombing Iran if it did not comply with requests to open itself for inspections. Santorum enjoyed a surge in popularity just before the first contest in Iowa on Jan.3, in which he was ultimately determined to have won, narrowly beating Mitt Romney. The strong showing bolstered his campaign, but he has struggled to raise the kind of money his opponents have been able to raise in order to buy TV ad time. He campaign is hoping Gingrich will stumble so that he can step in as the true conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

Quote: "If you're looking for the real conservative, someone who is the [Ronald]Reagan model, the answer is standing here today before you." — Campaign stop Coral Springs, Florida (January 2012)

Ron Paul (R)

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Name: Ronald Ernest (Ron) Paul Age: 76 Education: B.S. Biology, Gettysburg College, 1957; M.D. Duke University's School of Medicine, 1961 Family Status: Married to Carolyn Paul since 1957; five children

Political History: Paul originally ran for congress in 1974 as the delegate for Texas' 22nd district, but lost to incumbent Robert R. Casey. Paul later won a special election to replace Casey in 1976 after he was appointed to the Federal Maritime Commission, but lost in the general election later that year by fewer than 300 votes. He would reclaim the seat in 1978, and was subsequently re-elected in 1980 and 1982. Paul made a name for himself by constantly criticizing members of his own party, consistently supporting his libertarian beliefs even when they clashed with Republican motives. In 1984, Paul campaigned for the Senate instead of the House, but lost the Republican primary. In 1988, Paul ran for president as the Libertarian candidate, placing third. After some time off, Paul returned to Congress in 1996, where he remained until earlier this year. After another failed presidential run as a republican in 2008, Paul decided he would try once more in 2012, opting to not seek re-election in congress.

Background: Paul has built his political reputation on the libertarian ideals of small government and individual liberty. He has constantly called for the end of the Federal Reserve and the closure of U.S. military bases overseas, in addition to all international conflicts with American involvement, including in the middle east. His views often differ from those held by the majority of Republicans, leading to intense debate with members of his own party. Paul's 35 questions regarding the war in Iraq, for instance, raised significant concerns about military operations and government overreach at a time when some of his colleagues were not as vocal. Paul's conviction to defend his idea of personal freedom has led to a groundswell of popular support across demographics, from young voters to retirees, and has bolstered his campaign. Largely ignored by most media outlets despite strong finishes in several polls, Paul suddenly faced intense criticism on the campaign trail after a series of newsletters published by Ron Paul & Associates Inc. years earlier were found to contain racist statements. Despite his grassroots popularity, Paul has lagged behind Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in the polls, although he has committed to stay in the race so long as his campaign generates enthusiasm and delegates.

Quote: "I don't think it's that complicated. I think we made it more complicated than it should be. Yes, the President is the Commander-in-chief, but he's not the King. And that's why we fought a revolution, not to have a king decide when we go to war." - New Hampshire ABC GOP debate (January 2012)

Barack Obama (D)

Name: Barack Hussein Obama II Age: 50 Education: B.A. Political Science (specialty in International Relations), Columbia University, 1983; J.D., Harvard University, 1991 Family Status: Married to Michelle Obama since 1992; two children

Political History: Obama was first elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, where he was able to garner bipartisan support to reform health care and ethics laws. He was re-elected in 1998 and again in 2002, after losing the Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in an unexpected landslide victory, making him the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to serve in the Senate. That same year, Obama gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which catapulted him to the forefront of the Democratic party. In 2008, Obama beat Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic candidate for president, and would eventually defeat Republican John McCain in the general election, becoming the first African-American to serve as President.

Background: Obama's campaign for president centered on bringing hope and change to Washington's political culture, an idea that resonated with voters who were frustrated with the Bush presidency. His proposals included fixing health care, winding down American military operations abroad, and closing down the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay. Shorty before taking office, however, the United States economy was hit particularly hard by the global recession. The economy and subsequent unemployment would follow Obama throughout his first term, as well as his decision of a $787 stimulus package. He was still able to pass some key reforms, including repealing the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule rule on gays and lesbians serving in the military, and instituting health care reform. Obama has scored some significant victories abroad as well, including ending combat operations in Iraq, helping the Libyan effort to depose Muammar Gaddafi, and approving the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama touted these accomplishments while committing to invest in domestic initiatives like education, employment, and tax reform to help middle class Americans and protect the country from another economic crisis.

Quote: "It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody... Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same." — State of the Union address to joint session of Congress (January 24th 2012)

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