WASHINGTON — The Republican presidential field was once giant. Heading into the Iowa caucuses, it is down to very large. Here are the top six contenders:
Bio essentials: Billionaire businessman, former host of reality television show The Apprentice, former Democrat.
Political brand: Angry, incorruptible straight shooter.
Critics say: Bigot, clown, closet Democrat.
Campaign arc: Shot to the front with hard-line stance against illegal immigration, stayed there despite or because of dozens of outrageous remarks.
Key policies: Build a giant wall on the Mexican border; ban Muslims from entering the country; slap a hefty tariff on manufactured goods from China.
Fun fact: Once served as a financial adviser to boxer Mike Tyson.
Bio essentials: First-term U.S. senator for Texas, former Texas solicitor general, Harvard Law grad, born in Calgary.
Political brand: Uncompromising conservative fighter.
Critics say: Extremist, unlikeable, unelectable.
Campaign arc: Languished in the middle of the pack, rose to second when Ben Carson faltered, now facing questions about eligibility given his birth in Canada.
Key policies: “Carpet-bomb” the Islamic State group; replace the personal income tax system with a single 10 per cent “flat tax”; stop the government’s “persecution of religious liberty.”
Fun fact: Loves the movie The Princess Bride.
Bio essentials: First-term U.S. senator for Florida, former speaker of the Florida House, son of Cuban immigrants.
Political brand: Optimistic conservative of the future.
Critics say: Unprincipled, lazy, financially unwise.
Campaign arc: Started around 13 per cent in the polls and stayed there, despite strong debate performances and the decline of establishment favourite Jeb Bush.
Key policies: Topple Syrian leader Bashar Assad and pursue hawkish foreign policy; cut income taxes; offer illegal immigrants a path to legal status.
Fun fact: Prefers West Coast rap to East Coast rap.
Bio essentials: Former two-term governor of Florida, son and brother of presidents.
Political brand: Accomplished conservative pragmatist.
Critics say: Awkward, entitled, low-energy.
Campaign arc: Began as the front-runner, then plummeted, despite well-funded Super PAC support, after poor debate performances and relentless Trump attacks.
Key policies: Reform immigration law to give immigrants without documents a path to legal status; replace the welfare system with grants to individual states; cut individual and corporate taxes.
Fun fact: Carries toy turtles in his pocket to give to children.
Bio essentials: Two-term governor of New Jersey, former U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
Political brand: Tough conservative who tells it like it is.
Critics say: Bully, flip-flopper, reckless.
Campaign arc: Stuck below 5 per cent for almost the entire campaign, deprived of attention by Trump and wounded by a scandal over his N.J. administration’s vengeful closure of traffic lanes.
Key policies: Focus on treatment for drug addiction rather than punishment; raise the Social Security age and reduce benefits for some retirees; boost military spending.
Fun fact: Has attended more than 130 Bruce Springsteen concerts.
Bio essentials: Two-term governor of Ohio, former congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, former Lehman Brothers executive.
Political brand: Compassionate conservative.
Critics say: Jerk, insufferable, liberal.
Campaign arc: Stuck below 4 per cent for almost the entire campaign, unable to seize establishment support from Rubio, Bush and Christie.
Key policies: Balance the federal budget within eight years; freeze discretionary spending; cut Social Security benefits.
Fun fact: Finagled a meeting with then-president Richard Nixon as a university student.
Ben Carson: The renowned neurosurgeon surged to the top tier on the strength of his popularity with evangelicals, then plummeted after the Paris terror attacks as those voters questioned his foreign policy chops. He’s still in fourth place, at roughly 9 per cent, but his chance has come and gone.
Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight after a strong anti-Trump performance at a debate in September. But Fiorina never surpassed 15 per cent, and she’s now back at 2 per cent.
Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator attempted to retain the libertarian support base of his father Ron Paul while simultaneously appealing to more traditional conservatives, African-Americans and students. It didn’t work at all. He’s also at 2 per cent.
Mike Huckabee: The former pastor and former Arkansas governor is still admired by evangelicals, who carried him to victories in Iowa and the Deep South in 2008. But they now like Trump, Cruz and Carson better, and Huckabee too is stuck at 2 per cent.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator, like Huckabee a hard-line social conservative, finished second in 2012. The Republican base has moved on. Santorum’s current support is just about nonexistent: he averages 0.2 per cent.