As the US Republican nomination race continues, the key issue remains which candidate can provide most “reassurance” for mainstream America. At a time of great economic uncertainty, and with the US’ role in leading world affairs under scrutiny, the Republicans need to find a candidate who can make a majority of the US electorate feel that everything’s going to be ok in the end.

Mitt Romney’s campaign to become the Republican candidate looks to be right on track following his recent win in New Hampshire. He managed to pull off a commanding victory in the New Hampshire primary, winning 39% of the overall vote and his strong message, to shake the country out of its economic doldrums, seems to be striking a chord with the public.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen various Republican candidates representing the more ‘extreme’ side of the party come to the fore in several of the State votes, only to fall away again just as quickly. With Rick Perry and Herman Cain having already fallen by the wayside due to well-publicised ‘blunders’, the most recent challengers to Romney’s position as leading candidate havebeen Rick Santorum (who surprisingly polled second Iowa), Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul (second in the New Hampshire vote).

The problem seems to be that aside from Romney, the other candidates are campaigning for policies that seemingly alienate large portions of US society. Rick Santorum, along with Newt Gingrich openly opposes same-sex marriage and Ron Paul strongly opposes abortion, even in the case of rape. Following his surge into second place in Iowa, Santorum proceeded to shoot himself in the foot by stating that marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, was a ‘hazard to society’ – later backtracking by saying that he didn’t know medical marijuana laws very well. Hardly a confidence-inspiring admission, especially considering that surveys show 70% of Americans are in favour of legalising marijuana to reduce pain and suffering.

Romney’s opposition will no doubt rally against him again during the next phase of campaigning in South Carolina, where it is reported that he holds a much narrower lead. However, if he can hold them off here, history suggests that his selection as the Republican candidate is very likely – South Carolina has chosen the eventual Republican nominee in every primary vote since 1980.

It matters not that his own party does not “love” Romney in the way that it holds affection for some of his rivals who have more colourful views. If Romney is to pull off this victory, he should ignore the criticism from the more right-wing element of his Party and carry on down exactly the same path he has been treading. Newt Gingrich may well have branded Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate”, but it is exactly Romney’s profile as the most moderate and ‘normal’ of the candidates that would ultimately make him the best positioned of all the candidates to give the US electorate the ‘reassurance’ they need in these difficult times.

The caveat to this is that if the US economy picks up over the coming months, then Obama’s “reassurance” capability will rise and his position will no doubt strengthen, potentially derailing the Republican campaign. Speaking after his New Hampshire victory, Romney described Obama as a ‘failed president’ who hadn’t lived up to the lofty promises made during in his own election campaign four years ago. However, figures released last week show that the US unemployment rate has dropped to just 8.5% – the lowest it has been for nearly three years. With Obama’s re-election chances so heavily reliant on an improved economy, this is just the kind of news he will need more of if he is to convince the US voters that it is actually he who is still the most ‘reassuring’ prospect in the negotiation for the hearts and minds of the US electorate.