Let’s make a few assumptive statements up top to establish the background for this discussion. First, most voters only begin to pay close attention to Presidential elections after Labor Day of the election year. If that is true—and it likely is—then we’re still over 15 months away from the point where candidates are getting close scrutiny from the general electorate, as opposed to just from the ‘political junkie’ set.

Second, Presidential elections are decided by the middle 20% of voters. The Liberal base will pretty reliably give the Democratic candidate their 40% and likewise, the Conservative base will give the Republican candidate their 40%. The battle is over that middle 20% group.

I call this group the “mushy middle,” because they are generally inattentive to the ins and outs of everyday political happenings and only drop into the process in the few weeks immediately preceding the election.

Third, the mushy middle is influenced as much by a candidate’s persona and personal aura/appearance, if not more so, than they are influenced by a candidate’s actual policy positions. I will go so far as to opine that the majority of this middle group never has as complete an understanding of the subtleties and far-reaching implications of the various major issues as does the highly-motivated, long-attentive voter.

In the 40-40 groups, there are both unthinking automatic voters and policy-wonkish voters. In the Democratic 40% group there are, for example, African American voters who voted for Obama based solely on race and there are social-safety net or environmental voters, as examples, who vote Democratic because those are their values. There is also the full spectrum of overlap between the ‘auto’ and ‘policy’ group among the 40%, and that’s how that group is comprised. The 40% Republican group has parallel automatic and policy components, with similar degrees of overlap (religious pro- life, low taxes, strong defense, etc.) between the groups.

But a significant portion of the 20% mushy middle has neither the “automatic” tie-in to either group nor the fervent adherence to (or even the awareness and understanding of!) a specific policy or set of policies.

For them, it’s Persona First, Policy Second. That’s how they determine their vote, and that’s what determines the election. Scary, but true.

Having laid that groundwork, it would be instructive to look at the various potential Republican Presidential candidates as seen through the eyes of this casually-attentive 20% group. Not through our eyes—we obsess over every new speech and public appearance—but to try to see how things might look through their eyes. After all, they’re going to decide this election. Not you.

As currently seen by the Middle 20%:

Newt Gingrich—Has all the stereotypical Republican/Conservative traits: Comes across as ‘hard’ and unsympathetic to the underprivileged (if you don’t like him) and very smart and focused (if you do like him). Seems to have a bit of the “yesterday” feel about him, as if he’s somewhat past his time. Not a warm, fuzzy character, unlikely to win over a fence-sitting 20%-er.

Mitt Romney—Very smart, a great businessman, the right Presidential look and demeanor, but might be a little too slick and contrived. We don’t really understand the ins-and-outs of this Romneycare thing and why the news is always making such a big thing about it, but it makes us uneasy. Still, he could probably figure out a way to get people back to work.

Tim Pawlenty—We’ve just barely heard of him. He seems nice enough, looks normal, speaks well, but doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, doesn’t seem like he’s ready to lead the country.

Donald Trump—He seemed very interesting, almost exciting, until he started swearing at that press conference a few weeks ago. The birth certificate issue was kind of good, actually, because we liked the way he challenged things that no one else had the nerve to challenge, and that made us feel that he would do that with other issues to other countries to the benefit of America. Now he’s gone over the edge and he just seems sort of strange.

Sarah Palin—Some of us really like her: She seems direct and down to earth, and she says things that we feel. Some of us just think she’s not smart enough and just says things that other people tell her to say or that she thinks we want to hear. Overall, we don’t think she’s really qualified to be President.

Ron Paul—We’ve sort of heard about him because there seems to be a little buzz around his name. He seems old and odd, however, and strikes us as a fringe candidate—one of those people who always runs, never gets anywhere, and in the end, we won’t take him seriously.

Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, et al—us 20%-ers just don’t know anything about you yet, not enough to have an opinion.

The above list is merely an impression of how that middle 20% probably views these candidates at this juncture, not how we view those candidates, nor what we feel are the future prospects for those candidates.

One other very important observation: The mushy-middle 20% never really pays extremely close attention to detailed policy issues, and their impressions are greatly influenced by fleeting glimpses of MSM newspaper and magazine headlines and quick background soundbites as played on their cars’ all-news radio stations or the network evening news as they’re waiting for the weather update. They form their impressions fast and base those impressions on shallow information. If MSM bias is influential at all, it most so with this group.

Any Republican candidate would do well to frame their presentation and arguments with the 20%-ers in mind. While any candidate must satisfy their base, if a Republican is to win the election, he will also have persuasively answered the question, “How does your candidacy benefit me?” to the majority of the 20% group, while being extremely mindful of how the liberal MSM filter influences that group.