(see addendum below for campaign update)

At last the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary are behind us as the field of GOP candidates begins to thin. As one writer memorably said, “The shopping period has ended, and the buying period will begin.”

What a relief! The too-frequent debates crowded with 10 or more Republican candidates did not shed much of the candidates’ ability to run the country. Most of the political rhetoric consisted of back-biting and finger-pointing at each other that gave the voters mixed vibes on what kind of a leader the candidate would be.

I would define my political mantra as a centrist Republican. However, when the Republican candidate or platform becomes too right-wing, I often vote the Democratic ticket for specific candidates. This began while in college and eligible to vote for the first time when Harry Truman was running against Thomas Dewey. Even though I was a political science major at the time, I cannot recall exactly why I preferred Truman.

When I met my future wife, I was warned never to mention my voting record as my future father-in-law was a long-time Republican leader in the New York State Legislature under three Republican governors, including Dewey. My new family relationship did not deter my choice in future elections if I believed a Democrat would more adequately represent my beliefs.

Now that you know that I am a political maverick, we can open a review of the potential slates in the race to the state primaries leading to the political party conventions. Following the New Hampshire primary, it would appear the Republican challengers are reduced down to two groups: the ultraconservatives, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the far right corner, with John Kasich and Jeb Bush angling for the middle ground in an effort to attract progressives and minority groups that are basically undeclared or independents.

The dark horse in this race to the White House is Marco Rubio. His showing at the Iowa caucus put him in a solid third position that faded away after the debate preceding the New Hampshire primary. He had potential of a better draw from the liberal Republicans and Democratic minority groups who may not care for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. This is what many of the political pundits are talking about these days.

If the Republicans are not careful, their chosen candidate for the presidency could drive away voters who are adapting to 21st century social issues that the faith-based conservatives are opposing. Immigration, abortion, national health care and same-sex marriage are realities that are crossing political and religious lines for a majority of Americans, at least those who are living in the 21st century. Republican leaders cannot attract the more progressive among younger voters if they intend to roll back progress on these issues.

Donald Trump thinks he is the Messiah to satisfy disillusioned voters. The first two voter contests favored him, but can he sell his rhetoric to a wider variety of states? After these two test polls from voters, Trump no longer can be considered a joke.

Columnist Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” wrote that Trump’s diagnosis of what is wrong with our politics – that the politicians are bought and paid for by special interests – is essentially correct.

The biggest surprise on the Republican ticket was the rise of John Kasich to number two position. He came across as a sensible and inspired candidate by avoiding the political bashing that happens in debates and postmortems. He refrained from making any comment about the poor performance of Marco Rubio at the last debate while his opponents hit hard.

The other near contenders, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush took advantage of knocking Rubio down a few notches mocking his repetition of the same memorized 25-second sound bites. He was widely panned as a kind of robot for which Rubio later apologized to his supporters with the promise that it will never happen again.

This presidential campaign will focus on the Hispanic vote which means that the candidates, both Cruz and Rubio, must take a position on immigration. Rubio has demonstrated mixed support which might hurt him at the polls. The Hispanic population is growing and voting. Columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote that Rubio is seen as too white for Hispanics and too Hispanic for whites.

The big surprise of the New Hampshire election was the strong gain made by Bernie Sanders taking away Hillary Clinton’s significant lead over the last six months. It’s difficult to tell whether Democrat voters really support Sanders’ socialistic ideals or whether Clinton has been too long on the campaign trail without any new message to bring to the voters. There is also the belief that Wall Street and powerful political forces are bankrolling her campaign, the favorite Sanders criticism.

Now we wait for the next round of primaries in states with different political roots.

Addendum #1 for campaign update reporting the shift in candidates’ polling.

There were expectations that the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus would reflect a different voter response to the leading candidates after New Hampshire. As for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, their leads were only strengthened. The big change was the Republican runner-ups. Marco Rubio recovered after his debate gaff to be running neck-to-neck with Ted Cruz for the second spot. Clinton regained her big lead over Sanders.

Now come the Super Tuesday primaries that will spread a larger blanket over the nation’s electorate. If Trump keeps his lead, he surely will be nominated at the GOP convention. With that prospect, some Republican politicos are jumping aboard his campaign train.Gov. Chris Christie and Senator Duncan Hunter see opportunities to be in the Trump inner circle if he is nominated.

Addendum #2 for post-Super Tuesday results:

The primaries in 12 states this week strengthened the delegate leads for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Now the Republican party establishment is showing some panic that Trump will walk away with the nomination. Yet the core leadership can’t get behind one runner-up to challenge his lead.

Unfortunately this same party leadership fails to understand that Trump does appeal to frustrated voters of all classes over government gridlock, GOP opposition to some 21st century social changes that lobbyists make sure don’t change and fear of the extreme right wing factions in the party with Ted Cruz one of the prophets. Trump plays up to these political controversies to attract middle-class workers and even some Democrats.

The trend of Tuesday’s polling prompted some sharp observations from political pundits. E. J. Dionne  of The Washington Post wrote the Republican Party is being taken over by an egomaniac who appeals to the nation’s darkest impulse. The international news magazine The Economist wrote Donald Trump is unfit to lead a great political party; he is so unpredictable that the thought of him anywhere near high office is terrifying.