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Right Turn
Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 10/04/2011

‘Front-runner’ — surprise — is meaningless

The Post-ABC News poll, reflecting the same pattern we have seen in other polling, shows that after a much-heralded entrance into the race Texas Gov. Rick Perry has faded:

Among announced candidates — without [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie or [Sarah] Palin in the race — Romney leads with 25 percent, which is identical to his support from a month ago. Perry and Cain are tied for second with 16 percent, numbers representing a 13-point drop for Perry and a 12-point rise for Cain since early September.
Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) is the only other candidate in double figures, at 11 percent. Just behind him are former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), both with 7 percent. Gingrich’s support has held steady through the late summer. Bachmann’s numbers fell sharply after Perry announced his candidacy.

Perry has failed to extend his reach to more moderate voters, and his Tea Party support has cratered.

Let’s recap where we’ve been in the race so far. Tim Pawlenty was considered a top-tier candidate and fizzled during the summer before he got out of single digits. Bachmann was nipping at Romney’s heels in June but now is struggling in her must-win state of Iowa. And Perry may have peaked on the day he announced. (By the way, where is the prodigious fundraiser’s money total for the third quarter? He could use some good news right about now.)

Romney has remained in place, which in this field, is good enough. It also confirms Right Turn’s oft-stated view: A candidate isn’t “leading” a presidential primary because he is atop the polls six months before votes are cast. (Conversely, that Christie draws only 10 percent of the vote in this poll is meaningless. If he were to get in, he too would likely soar to the top of the polls. The trick would be staying there.)

It also suggests that despite complaints from conservative commentators, Romney’s strategy of simultaneously attacking Perry on immigration (Perry’s support for in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants is opposed by almost 8 in 10 Tea Party supporters) and painting him as an extremist on Social Security is working. (“A month ago, Perry appeared to have neutralized what had been a clear Romney advantage: a perception that he is the best positioned to defeat Obama in 2012. Now, 51 percent of Republicans say Romney has a better shot at winning than does Perry; 31 percent say so of Perry.”)

The other news from the results is that Cain, rather than the social conservative former senator Rick Santorum, is scooping up Perry’s disaffected voters. Perhaps Cain’s cheery disposition and 9-9-9 tax policy are clicking. But is he really collecting those voters?

It seems that the not-Romney contingent, like that floating craps-game in “Guys and Dolls,” has no permanent home. They fix in one spot; that turns to disappointment. They pick up and park somewhere else for awhile. When that doesn’t pan out, they scramble elsewhere.

So the question remains: Can Romney cajole these voter into his tent, or do they remain divided among four or five candidates, none of whom has the broad support and organizational skills to go the distance?

That, of course, depends on Christie. A Wall Street Journal report suggests he promised Meg Whitman, a Romney supporter, he wouldn’t run as a condition of hosting a fundraiser. But his intentions are no clearer than they were last week. His team has become exceptionally tight-lipped. (Take your pick: Ohhh, that means he really is running! Oh, well, there — he’s not interested, after all. )

Looking at the poll numbers, Christie should be intrigued. The Post reports:

The new poll may in some ways bolster Republican hopefulness in general.
Obama’s approval rating — while not significantly different from a month ago — is at a new career low, his disapproval number at a new high. In all, 42 percent approve of the job he is doing, while 54 percent disapprove. Barely more than a third of independents give the president positive marks, as 60 percent now disapprove, a new high. For the first time, fewer than half of moderates approve of the way Obama is handling his job.
Of course, the president won’t have to run against a theoretical Republican. Among registered voters, he runs neck and neck with Romney, Perry and Christie. The president has a narrow edge on Perry among all adults.

If the combined share of the not-Romney GOP electorate, generally socially conservatives and/or strong Tea Party supporters, remains divided among Cain, Bachmann, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Romney will be in the driver’s seat, even in places like Iowa and South Carolina. Perhaps the not-Romney forces need to decide: If not Christie, who can they pull into the race to challenge the former Massachusetts governor? If they can’t find anyone, they may in fact have to settle for him.

By  |  09:15 AM ET, 10/04/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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