2012 Republican presidential candidate bios

Iowans have heard them debate repeatedly. They've heard many similar arguments about abortion, same-sex marriage and the economic stewardship of President Barack Obama. As the Jan. 3 caucuses approach, though, Iowa Republicans are wondering: Where do the candidates differ on issues important to GOP voters? For more on race for the presidency, check out our Election 2012 page on

(Published December 24, 2011)

Michele Bachmann

Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul

Rick Perry

Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum


Age 55, born in Waterloo, Iowa. Lives in Stillwater, Minn.

Graduated from Winona State University, Oral Roberts University, College of William and Mary.

Married to husband Marcus for more than three decades. Five children and, over the years, 23 foster children.

Age 68, born in Harrisburg, Pa. Lives in McLean, Va.

Graduate of Emory University, Tulane University. Taught history and geography at West Georgia College.

Twice divorced, he married his third wife, Callista Bisek, in 2000. Two daughters, two grandchildren.

Age 76, born in Pittsburgh. Lives in Lake Jackson, Texas.

Graduated from Gettysburg College, Duke Medical School. Married to Carol Wells since 1957.

Five children, 18 grandchildren.

Age 61, born in Paint Creek, Texas. Lives in West Austin.

Graduated from Texas A&M University.

Married to high school sweetheart Anita Thigpen since 1982. Two children.

Age 64. Born in Detroit. Lives in Boston.

Father was CEO of American Motors and governor of Michigan.

Graduate of Brigham Young University, Harvard Law, Harvard Business.

Married to Ann Romney since 1969. Five sons, 16 grandchildren.

Age 53. Born in Winchester, Va. Lives in Penn Hills, Pa.

Graduate of Pennsylvania State, University of Pittsburgh, Dickinson School of Law.

Married to Karen Garver since 1990. Seven children.

Afghan war/terrorism

Afghanistan is a war "we must and can win" if generals have enough troops and money. Opposed U.S. intervention in Libya, saying it might help terrorists there. Has strongly opposed cutting defense spending.

Praised the decision to increase troops in Afghanistan two years ago but has been noncommittal recently on when and how the U.S. should withdraw. Initially criticized White House for not intervening in Libya, then criticized the use of U.S. air power there. Opposes cutting defense spending, except for waste.

Supports continued use of Guantanamo detention for terrorism suspects but said waterboarding “is not something we should do.” Favors strengthening investigative powers of Patriot Act.

Favors bringing all or nearly all troops home immediately, from Afghanistan and all other posts abroad. Opposed U.S. intervention in Libya and opposes U.S. military involvement overseas generally. Favors cutting military spending. Opposes the surveillance and search powers of the Patriot Act. Says terrorists would not be motivated to attack America if the U.S. ended its military presence abroad. Says "waterboarding is torture" that is illegal, immoral and impractical.

"The mission must be completed" in Afghanistan. He's criticized the announcement of U.S. troop-withdrawal goals in Iraq and for Afghanistan — but has not said how many troops should remain or for how long. Opposes cutting military spending.

Supports continued Guantanamo detention for suspected terrorists and extension of Patriot Act. U.S. interrogators should stop short of torture, which he does not define.

Has criticized troop withdrawals from Afghanistan as starting too soon, but has not specified numbers he'd favor to ensure the "force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully." Would increase size of military, including more troops and warships.

Favors aggressively confronting jihadists and Iran, including with military pressure. Does not consider waterboarding torture.

Says U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan slower than Obama is planning "because we want to be successful. We want victory." Says troop levels and rules of engagement have been too constrictive.

Likens radical Islam to the scale of past ideological threats such as Marxism. But says intervention in foreign conflicts should be limited to those with a direct impact on the U.S. Supports continued use of Guantanamo detention for suspected terrorists. Says waterboarding has proven effective.

Taxes and spending

Opposes increasing income taxes. Would eliminate the estate tax. Proposes that U.S. companies operating overseas be offered a tax holiday to repatriate their profits, then be taxed at just 5 percent. Opposed deal to raise debt ceiling. Favors cutting Medicare and Medicaid spending. Opposes changing Social Security for current beneficiaries but would "wean everybody else off" by offering them private accounts.

Favors ending capital gains and estate taxes, cutting corporate tax rate to 12.5 percent. On personal income taxes: opposes increasing rates; would let people choose whether to file under the current system or pay a 15 percent flat tax. Says U.S. had no choice but to raise debt ceiling.

Would cut Medicaid spending by converting to block grants for states. Would reduce Medicare spending by offering private alternatives. Favors private accounts as Social Security option for younger workers.

Not only opposes increasing income taxes but favors abolishing them and the IRS. Favors a national sales tax, certain excise taxes and certain tariffs.

Would drastically shrink federal government by nearly halving its spending and abolishing five Cabinet-level agencies (Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development). Would eliminate the Federal Reserve and put the dollar back on a gold standard. Would reduce spending on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Opposes raising income tax rates. Wants to let taxpayers choose between current income tax system and a 20 percent flat tax. The latter would end taxes on inheritances, dividends and long-term capital gains. Also favors cutting corporate tax rate to 20 percent.

Wants to cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product, but no specifics on major spending cuts. To save money, would raise retirement age for Social Security and consider partial privatization of it and would hand more Medicaid and Medicare responsibility to the states.

Wants Bush tax cuts permanent, favors exempting households with income under $200,000 from taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains. Would cut corporate tax rate to 25 percent, eliminate estate tax. Opposed debt ceiling deal.

Would cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product. Says spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security must be cut, in part by handing Medicaid to the states and by partly privatizing Medicare and Social Security. Also proposes 10% cut in federal workforce.

Proposes zero corporate tax for manufacturers. Opposes any national sales tax or increase in personal income tax rates.

Favors cutting spending on Medicaid and Medicare, has backed plans to convert Medicaid into block grants for states and convert Medicare into a fixed subsidy to help seniors buy private insurance. Favors allowing the option of private accounts in Social Security.

Health care

Favors repeal of health care law and opposes its core: the individual mandate to buy insurance. Favors limits on medical lawsuits to control health care costs. Voted against expanding Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Wants to repeal the health care law; once favored an individual mandate to buy insurance but now opposes it. Would ban insurers from cancelling or hiking rates on those who become sick while insured, an element of the current health care law. Would offer tax credit or deduction to help people buy health insurance, also similar to current law. Would limit medical lawsuits to restrain health costs.

Opposes compulsory insurance and all government subsidies for health coverage, including the new health care law and its individual mandate. Favors letting people deduct full cost of their health coverage and care from taxes. Says doctors should feel an obligation to treat the needy for free.

Favors repealing the health care law and its individual mandate to buy coverage. Would raise eligibility age for Medicare, limit its benefits for the wealthy and give people the choice of receiving federal help buying their own insurance instead of getting direct Medicare benefits. Proposes turning Medicaid over to the states with a federal subsidy.

Wants to repeal the health care law, says an individual mandate was good for Massachusetts but a bad idea for the federal government to impose on all states. Would restrict malpractice awards to restrain health care costs. On Medicare, he would try to woo future retirees to buy private insurance by offering them subsidies. On Medicaid, he seeks to convert the program into block grants for states to carry out.

Would seek to starve the health care law of money needed to implement it, calls its individual mandate unconstitutional. Supported Bush administration's prescription drug program for Medicare.


Favors fencing the entire 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border, not just the 650 miles fenced so far. Opposes government benefits for illegal immigrants and their children. Borders must be secure and existing laws better enforced before any immigration reform is considered. That reform must not reward people who entered illegally by granting them citizenship.

Favors granting legal status to those illegal immigrants who have sunk roots in the U.S. and lived otherwise lawfully: "If you've been here 25 years and (you've) got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out." Supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants' children who perform U.S. military service. Would spend more Homeland Security funds on fighting illegal immigration at Mexican border.

Would do "whatever it takes" to secure the border. Opposes granting legal status to anyone who entered U.S. illegally. Would stop granting citizenship to those born on U.S. soil if parents are in country illegally. Would deny education and social services to illegal immigrants. Would aggressively deport those who overstay a visa or otherwise break U.S. law.

Opposes "idiocy" of a border fence, instead favoring more border agents. Opposes granting citizenship to people here illegally before those who migrate legally. Supports continuing to grant citizenship to babies born on U.S. soil. In Texas, illegal immigrants can qualify for in-state college tuition. Neither private nor public employers are required to run job applicants through a federal database to check their legal status. Illegal immigrants have access to services for drug treatment, mental health and for children with special health needs.

Favors border fence. Opposes any plan to grant legal status to people here illegally until they return to their native land and apply through normal channels. Opposes allowing in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants. Wants looser immigration laws for highly skilled workers.

Supports border fence and more border agents as first priority. Opposes letting illegal immigrants gain legal status without first returning to their native country and applying through normal channels. Opposes letting children of illegal immigrants qualify for in-state tuition.

Distinguishing traits

Only woman in the race. Only Iowa native, too.

Describes herself as a born-again Christian, says God encouraged her to run.

Bombast. He's known as a font of ideas who presses opponents with glee, via the lecture circuit, his think tank and cable news commentary.

Sometimes called the "intellectual godfather" of the Tea Party, he's a three-time presidential candidate, starting in 1988 under the Libertarian Party banner.

He's half of the only father-son team in Congress: his son Rand is a freshman senator from Kentucky and also a Tea Party favorite.

A tall Texan who flew C-130 cargo planes for the Air Force after college, then went home to help run the family cotton farm.

An evangelical Christian sometimes accused of blurring politics and religion. One example: declared an August "Day of Prayer and Fasting" and blended it with the launch of his presidential campaign.

Perfect hair.

He's Mormon, a faith never represented in the White House.

A passionate, confrontational social conservative who especially opposes gay marriage, "the ultimate homeland security issue."

A conservative Roman Catholic, he called the priest sex-abuse scandal a byproduct of "moral relativism" and "alternative lifestyles" promoted by media and academia. In Congress, he led weekly devotions for Catholics but excluded Democrats.


Worked as a tax attorney for the IRS. Having switched from Democrat to Republican, she jumped into politics by beating a favored incumbent for a Minnesota state Senate seat in 2000.

In 2006 she advanced to Washington, elected to the House. Minnesotans re-elected her twice.

Founded the House Tea Party Caucus, which favors limiting government to only what the Constitution spells out.

Elected to Congress from Georgia 11 times. Engineered the "Contract With America," pledges that drove the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 — GOP control of both chambers for the first time in 40 years.

As House speaker, was known for his combative style, which led to two government shutdowns and the Clinton impeachment, but also to a landmark welfare overhaul.

Has written about two dozen books, including historical novels.

Has served 11 terms in the House over three periods, starting in the 1970s.

After serving in the Air Force as a flight surgeon, he built an obstetrics/gynecology practice in Texas. Delivered more than 4,000 babies before entering politics in 1976.

Is nation's longest serving governor, beginning in 2000 when his predecessor, George W. Bush, moved into the White House.

Boasts of never having lost an election since first running for the Texas House — as a Democrat — in 1984. Switched to the GOP in 1989.

Founder of Bain Capital, which bought, fixed and resold companies. Romney is worth $190 million to $250 million, his campaign says.

Was CEO of 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

As Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, was known for bipartisan compromises in a state dominated by Democrats and independents.

Elected to House in 1990 at age 32 by beating a seven-term Democrat. Got a whistleblower reputation for helping expose a House banking scandal in 1992.

Elected to Senate in 1994, but lost 2006 bid for re-election.

Something else

As a teen on a Christian mission trip in the 1970s, she worked one summer on a communal farm in Israel, pulling weeds in the cotton fields.

Told college Republicans in 1978: "One of the great problems we have ... is that we don't encourage you to be nasty …" whereas Democrats "understand that cannibalism is the nature of the business." In 1998, resigning as House speaker, he told GOP colleagues: "I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals."

In high school, he won state in the 220-yard dash. Penn State offered him an athletic scholarship, even though he tore knee cartilage playing touch football over the summer. He declined, saying he couldn't accept in good conscience. Now he has two artificial knees.

Played six-man football as one of 13 students in the Class of 1968 at Paint Creek Rural School. Then, in what he cites as a formative experience, spent summers as a door-to-door book salesman: "There is nothing that tests your commitment to a goal like getting a few doors closed in your face."

During college, went to France as a Mormon missionary for 2½ years — his lean years, he says — when a bucket sometimes was his toilet and a hose his shower.

As a lawyer, he once represented the World Wrestling Federation, arguing that pro wrestling should be exempt from federal steroid rules because it is not a sport.


A seeming knack for misstatement. She misspoke about John Wayne's Iowa birthplace and Lexington and Concord. She cited false reports that an Obama trip to India was costing $200 million a day. She implied the 1970s swine flu was Democrats' fault and misplaced the timing as during the Carter presidency rather than Ford's.

Social conservatives balk at his checkered personal life, which includes admitted extramarital affairs, including one as he pushed the Clinton impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Ethical clouds surrounding a book advance and the financing of a college course he taught led to a House reprimand in 1997. He resigned the next year.

Critics, including some Republicans who worked alongside him, see him as a chaotic headline-grabber prone to engaging his mouth and putting his foot in it.

Ardent Libertarianism (says he was a fan of gutting government long before the Tea Party seized on the idea). Even some fellow Republicans call his candidacy a joke or, more charitably, merely a platform for his ideas.

Age? He'd take office at 77, eight years older than Ronald Reagan when he started his presidency.

Though he dismisses the comparison, some say that after eight Bush years, the country isn't ready for another folksy, hard-charging Texan with a record heavy on verbal stumbles and light on foreign policy experience.

The questions persisted after a debate this fall in which he couldn't recall one of three federal departments he wants to abolish.

A reputation for flip-flops, such as on health care and the military's policy on gays. He disputes the accusation, except on the issue of abortion: Once a supporter of Roe v. Wade, he now says it should be overturned, a change of heart he says took place in 2004 during a debate over embryonic stem cell research.

Some call him a robo-multimillionaire out of touch with working Joes, noting his offer to bet a fellow candidate $10,000 over a disputed point.

What he himself calls "his Google problem." In 2003, gays offended by his stands launched an online campaign to turn his name into an offensive word. Web searches thus produce references to anal sex.

Once insisted, even after the Pentagon acknowledged otherwise, that the Iraq War had uncovered weapons of mass destruction. Also explained the war's purpose in "Lord of the Rings" terms, saying: "As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S."

In a race against Obama

A bonanza for Tea Partiers and social conservatives. She's voted twice against raising the debt ceiling and vocally opposes abortion and same-sex marriage — stark contrasts she'd emphasize against Obama.

Look for feistiness. His mix of pugnacity, inside-Washington experience and zest for big-policy talk would lay a path for a scrappy campaign and epic debates.

It'd be the sharpest possible contrast over the federal government's proper size and role. Paul (nicknamed "Dr. No") boasts of never voting for any bill not explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution. He also stridently opposes abortion and favors very limited use of U.S. military force, often breaking with other Republicans, such as by voting against the Iraq War.

Sharp contrast. His stands on social issues, including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as his fondness for blunt speech — in 2009 he suggested Texas might secede — mean voters could expect a scrap. Perry also has contrasted his military service with Obama's lack of it.

"Romneycare vs. Obamacare." Romney's signature achievement as governor was a state health care law similar to the federal version the Supreme Court will weigh during the presidential campaign. GOP critics say Romney can't confront Obama on the issue. Romney says the Massachusetts law, including its "individual mandate" to buy insurance, is the right path for any state that chooses but one wrong for Washington to impose nationally.

Santorum remains popular with many social conservatives influential in the GOP primary process. That base, plus his confrontational style, would turn a race with Obama into a battle on moral ground.

It's the economy

Favors eliminating estate tax and offering a tax holiday plus low tax rate to U.S. companies operating overseas that repatriate their profits. Has called for phasing out Social Security and Medicare, except for current beneficiaries. Favors aggressive deregulation and repeal of the financial rules Congress passed after the Wall Street meltdown. Favors several supply-side recipes intended to prod those with wealth to invest more in the economy: Make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, eliminate capital gains taxes, eliminate the estate tax and lower the corporate tax rate. Also favors repealing the financial industry rules passed after the Wall Street meltdown, restricting the Fed's power to set interest rates artificially low and making work training a condition for receiving unemployment.

He's famous for his calls to abolish the IRS and the Federal Reserve and return the country to a gold standard. Favors constitutional amendments to abolish income, estate and gift taxes. Says he'd slash nearly half of federal spending, shutting five of the 15 Cabinet-level agencies in the process.

Says his fiscal skill shows in Texas' business-friendly record of reduced taxes and state spending — as well as better economic performance than the country as a whole through the recession. Wants to spur economy by cutting corporate taxes and regulations and by repealing the health care law. Proposes to lower and cap federal spending but has specified few cuts.

Often touts his experience in the private sector before serving four years as governor. Has been the least strident among GOP candidates about slashing government regulation.

Favors making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, lowering the corporate tax rate, ending the estate tax and eliminating capital gains taxes for households making less than $250,000 a year.

Backs "cut, cap and balance," a deficit-fighting approach championed by the Tea Party that would culminate in a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Says he'd cut non-defense programs and Medicare, but not for existing recipients.

Wants to spur job creation by eliminating corporate taxes for manufacturers, drilling for more oil and gas, and slashing regulations: "Repeal every regulation the Obama administration has put in place. … You may have to replace a few, but let's repeal them all." Opposed both the financial-industry bailout and stimulus bills.

What a win in Iowa would mean

A much-needed boost solidifying her as a mainstream contender, although victory in her birthplace might allow rivals to discount a win.

A chance to cement a role as front-runner ahead of Mitt Romney. Also might reduce the nomination to a two-man race between candidates who have spent little time tramping Iowa this year, focusing instead on TV appearances and debates.

That a broad slice of Iowa Republicans is totally fed up with government. Paul has been drawing big crowds in the state, and some predict the climate of voter disgust gives a good shot at finishing high in the caucuses.

A badly needed lift for a campaign that surged early as a credible Romney alternative, then sank. Perry and a large posse of influential Texans are barnstorming Iowa, a mark of how crucial he considers the caucuses.

That he's survived an onslaught of "anybody but Mitt," particularly among Christian evangelicals. And that — despite spending little time in Iowa this year — he heads to home turf in New Hampshire with a good chance to head off a longer, costlier nomination battle.

A bolt of lightning. He's worked hard in Iowa, traveling often to the state this year. Despite that and an enthusiastic core of supporters, he has not yet been able to overcome his low poll numbers.


Michele Bachmann touts 'titanium spine'

Gingrich a polarizing figure

Ron Paul viewed in a new light

Rick Perry focused, driven

Mitt Romney emphasizes flexibility

Rick Santorum waiting for his moment

Tell us what you think