By Ray Fleming

THE first of the Republican party's primary elections to select its candidate for next November's presidential election will soon take place in Iowa and others will follow around the country for several months. It is a tribute to American democracy that this sifting process is so extensive and thorough. On the other hand, however, it cannot be said that the thirteen preliminary TV debates between the five or six candidates have been very encouraging.

Last Sunday's was one of the worst, marred by more of Newt Gingrich's anti-Palestinian rants and also by a strange misjudgment by former governor Mitt Romney who offered a 10'000 dollar bet to the Texas governor Rick Perry over the accuracy of Perry's allegation of Romney's support for national health care policy. Perhaps the bet was intended as a joke but it was the ease with which Romney appeared ready to put his money on the table that shocked many people. It's well known that he is a very rich man but to flaunt that status at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet seemed a serious error. Romney has both business and government experience but is finding it difficult to get more than 25 per cent support in opinion polls.

His resolute Mormonism, his wealth and liberal outlook on some issues seem to work against him. Gingrich's participation is bizarre.

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