The latest Quinnipiac poll has some interesting tidbits. There is no front-runner for the GOP nomination: “The GOP primary shows U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with 11 percent, New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 10 percent each, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin with 8 percent each, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio with 6 percent, no other candidate over 3 percent, with 20 percent undecided.”
Not only is there no break-out candidate, but also many labeled as leaders or dark horses haven’t moved perceptibly. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) peaked at 17 percent and is now at 11 percent while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has slid from a high of 19 percent to 6 percent. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who has shown little interest in the presidential race has also fallen back to 8 percent. Compared to these, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has held up fairly well despite the bridge scandal, in a statistical tie for the lead at 10 percent.
The main takeaway here is that there are many viable candidates and Hillary Clinton in not invincible. She leads the top GOP contenders by single digits and has less than a 50 percent approval rating. (Imagine what will happen if she stays on the book tour for a couple more months.) It is noteworthy that the poll ended June 30, before a couple more Clinton gaffes.
By a small 46 percent to 44 percent margin voters prefer the GOP to take the Senate and to keep the House majority.
Not all those mentioned in this or other polls will run and some not mentioned may throw their hat into the ring. If for example Christie and Bush don’t run, Ryan may well be the overwhelming favorite of “establishment” Republicans, with some far right support as well; likewise if Bush and Ryan don’t run, after all the bridge scandal hullabaloo Christie may find himself at the top of the heap.
More so than in previous years, GOP voters may be relatively less impressed with rhetoric and ideological platitudes. President Obama was enough to make any voter wary of a purely charismatic candidate. Who will seem presidential on a stage with Clinton? Who sounds like he understands the world and can reverse and repair the damage to U.S. credibility on the international stage? Which one sounds like he can actually run the government and work with Congress? These considerations will be at the forefront of many voters’ minds.
The 2014 GOP Senate primaries remain an object lesson. Even in a narrow electorate (more selective than even in a presidential primary) a pure tea party candidate is hard-pressed to win against a competent opponent who has more diverse appeal. Narrow-casting one’s appeal is sufficient to create a talk show audience but not to win a succession of geographically and politically diverse states.
The other truism reinforced by 2014 is that candidate quality matters. A flaky extremist, a gaffe-prone newcomer or an inexperienced interviewee prone to inadvertently reveal his weaknesses is not going to win a Senate primary let alone the GOP nomination, especially when the world is coming apart at the seams.
In 2008 and 2012 the GOP nominee did not lack gravitas, but neither connected on an emotional level with the wider electorate. Whether through an immigrant life story or the experience overcoming hardship, the GOP candidate is going to have to demonstrate he understands and relates to ordinary voters. The good news is that his opponent is likely to be Clinton who is both out of touch and out of ideas. Still you can’t be a flawed candidate with nothing.