WASHINGTON - Voters go to the polls next month to begin choosing a candidate who can put America back to work and that means preventing Barack Obama from winning a second term.
But the Republican and GOP-leaning electorate has been deeply divided over the past year about who that candidate should be, with its conservative base switching almost monthly from one presidential hopeful to another in search of a contender who will carry their banner and fulfill their hopes and aspirations.
Here are some of the overriding qualifications to look for in a candidate who can do that:
-- Rule out anyone who is not making the persistently weak, jobless Obama economy the number one issue in 2012. Countless national polls over the past three years of this administration show that no other issue comes even close.
Any candidate who isn't tirelessly and angrily pounding this issue in every speech isn't addressing our country's biggest problem.
Lots of other issues are important, like our government's mushrooming debt, but an economically weak America threatens our national security as a major power in an increasingly dangerous world.
And not just address this issue, but set forth an agenda to unleash the capital investment, market-expansion and job creating reforms that are needed to put tens of millions of Americans back to work: A growth agenda that calls for permanently lower tax rates on businesses, investors and workers alike, terminating costly job killing regulations, and expanding our export markets around the world.
-- No qualification is more critical in this weak economic environment than high level executive experience, preferably in both the private and public sector.
We've experimented with Barack Obama's attempts to spend ourselves out of America's Great Recession and he has clearly demonstrated that he's in over his head -- that he does not understand what creates jobs.
His tissue paper-thin resume as a community organizer and a state senator of no accomplishment, with a year or so of actually working in the U.S. Senate, doesn't come close to the experience standard needed to run the largest economic power in the world.
In the modern era, we've looked to governors who have actually run a state government -- FDR and Reagan come to mind, among others.
There's a reason why we don't elect House members to the presidency, especially those who have never held any leadership roles.
That would be virtually comparable to promoting someone in the mailroom to CEO.
It helps to have run a state where you've balanced the budget, engaged a willful legislature in the give and take of statecraft, and built a record of legislative accomplishment.
-- A qualified presidential candidate should be fully and exhaustively vetted by the voters -- and not just in a single election cycle, either. Republicans have a habit of making most of its nominees run through the campaign spin cycle at least twice before nominating them for the job. Reagan tried three times before he was ready.
Shaking off defeat and trying again shows persistence, and old fashioned determination and ambition.
Winning the presidency shouldn't be easy and the four-year political gauntlet and 50-state primary contests, even before the general election begins, is deliberately set up to weed out the weakest candidates.
-- Look at the candidate's top advisers, the people who have endorsed him, and the caliber of those who run the campaign's operations. If the campaign is badly run, over-budget and in debt, his or her presidency will be, too.
Does the candidate have an inner circle of high-level advisers who are governors or former governors, people who have served in high office and know what they're doing? If not, then that's a sign of candidates who are not taken seriously at the highest levels of their party.
Reagan sought out men of broad accomplishment in politics, government and the business world, from George Shultz to free market economist Milton Friedman, Caspar Weinberger and domestic policy adviser Martin Anderson.
Most of the Republicans running now have no really heavy hitters in their inner circles. Their tiny organizations would face challenges in a statewide race, let alone the nationwide campaign that faces each of them. Not a good sign.
-- And let's not forget the importance of temperament. Is the candidate disciplined and steady through the volatile ups and downs of political primary battles. Does he stick to the game plan and stay focused on the issues that matter to the voters, no matter what the distractions and political side shows may be.
Eventually, all campaigns have to deal with incoming fire that can rattle the inexperienced candidate and throw him off message.
That's when voters want to see signs of the candidate's true character and inner convictions, one that exudes confidence and leadership.
The economic and national security challenges that will confront our country in the immediate years ahead will be a time of great trial and not for the faint of heart. This will be no time for on the job training. We've been a witness to that for the past three years.
Economic growth is crawling at a feeble one and a half percent growth. Unemployment is expected to be closer to 9 percent throughout 2012. Add underemployment and we are approaching 20 percent.
The government is groaning under the weight of a $15.1 trillion national debt -- $1 trillion higher than it was just one year ago. It will grow another $1 trillion by the end of next year.
Tackling these problems will not only take great political courage but real executive experience as well -- someone who has done this before. Someone who is not afraid to enter the arena and fight for his country and for what he believes.
The decision-making begins in Iowa next Tuesday.