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c 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, the candidate’s 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, that’s a sign of a candidate who is not taken seriously at the highest levels of his or her party.

Reagan sought out men of broad accomplishment in politics, government and the business world, from George P. 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.

c 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 sideshows 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, exuding confidence and leadership

The economic and national security challenges that will confront our country in the immediate years ahead will mark a time of great trial, not for the faint of heart. This will be no time for on-the-job training. We’ve been witnesses to that for the past three years.

Economic growth is crawling at a feeble 1.5 percent. 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 take not only great political courage but real executive experience as well, from 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 on Tuesday.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.