GOP leaders fret about fallout from primary, and for good reason

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/27/2012

Mike Huckabee criticized the tenor of the GOP presidential race on Sunday, becoming the latest Republican Party elder statesmen to caution the current field of candidates against how the campaign has been conducted.

“A lot of it is that I think that there’s just such a toxic atmosphere now, specifically in the Republican Party,” Huckabee said in an interview with an Israeli TV station. “And I would love to be able to say that it’s going to be all about ideas and solutions, but unfortunately, a lot of it is just being able to say I (am) more angry at the Obama administration than somebody else.”

Huckabee joins other GOP graybeards like Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour, and some Republican governors in expressing dismay at the direction of the GOP race.

And the numbers show they have good reason for concern.

The most recent Gallup numbers show three of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates have higher unfavorable ratings than favorable ratings, including Mitt Romney, whose personal unfavorable rating has shot up to 47 percent in recent weeks.

Romney is now viewed unfavorably by essentially the same percentage of voters as President Obama, even though Obama’s favorable rating (50 percent) is more than 10 points higher than Romney’s (39 percent).

Even the lone GOP candidate who is in net-positive territory — Rick Santorum — has a favorable rating (38 percent) only slightly higher than his unfavorable rating (35 percent).

A look back at history shows this is both unusual and troubling for the GOP.

Gallup polling in the 2008 race at this point put Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) favorable/unfavorable splits at 67 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable. On the Democratic side, now-President Obama was at 62 percent positive and 33 percent negative, and even the supposedly polarizing Hillary Clinton was at 53 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable — still clearly in net-positive territory.

Similarly, at this point in 2004, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) favorable rating was 60 percent and, despite the rough-and-tumble campaign, never dipped below 50 percent from this point on.

This isn’t a totally apples-to-apples comparison, of course.

Americans are much more cynical about politicians these days, and we see that in the approval and favorable ratings of politicians from senators to local elected officials — not just the GOP presidential candidates. While a politician with an approval rating below 50 percent used to be left for dead, that threshold is now arguably 45 percent or lower.

Also, Kerry and McCain had both essentially locked up their nominations at the point the numbers above were released, and they both got boosts from winning their races.

Indeed, Kerry and McCain’s earlier numbers weren’t nearly as rosy; both were in much more middling territory just a few months before their ratings shot up. McCain’s favorable rating dropped as low as 41 percent when his campaign was really struggling, while Kerry had a higher unfavorable rating (32 percent) than favorable rating (31 percent) as the calendar turned to 2004.

That would seem to suggest that the GOP field’s current struggles could just as easily turn around once one of them sews up the nomination. And that’s possible.

But it should also be noted that neither Kerry nor McCain was ever nearly as unpopular during their primary campaigns as Romney is right now — their highest unfavorable ratings only reached the low 30s, far shy of Romney’s 47 percent. Even when McCain was left for dead as a candidate, he wasn’t in nearly as bad a shape as Romney is right now and still had a higher favorable rating than unfavorable rating.

So when people like Huckabee, Bush and Barbour worry, it’s understandable.

Santorum’s national lead collapses: Santorum’s double-digit lead has collapsed just as fast as it materialized.

The Gallup national tracking poll on Sunday showed Romney regaining the lead, 31 percent to 29 percent.

Just days ago, Santorum led the poll by 10 percent — a pretty stunning shift that appeared to be set in motion even before Wednesday’s debate.

Daniels says he’s ‘not planning’ to crash presidential race: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) recently wagered that the one person who could enter the presidential race late and have a shot is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

But Daniels isn’t biting.

“I wasn’t running, I’m not running, and I don’t plan to run,” Daniels said this weekend at the National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C. “I’d love to have something new to say to y’all, but I just don’t. I’ve felt there are other ways a person can contribute, and I’m trying to do that in other ways. But I’m not a candidate, and I’m not planning to be.”

Of course, a skeptic might read that as not totally foreclosing the possibility. Daniels said he doesn’t “plan to” run versus saying he “won’t run.”

Not Shermanesque, but close.

Meanwhile, in related news, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) says there could be a contested convention if Romney loses Michigan.

Fixbits:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) says Romney will win his state. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agrees.

Santorum says he read John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state and “almost threw up.”

Santorum says college needn’t be every young person’s goal

Santorum is the latest to criticize Obama’s apology for the Koran-borning U.S. servicemembers.

Santorum tries to turn the GOP’s anti-teleprompter sentiment against Romney.

Ron Paul laughs off Santorum’s allegation that his campaign is colluding with Romney.

Former congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) asks Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to stop referencing his father, former senator Ted Kennedy, in radio ads.

It’s getting to crunch time in an all-important round of redistricting in New York.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) suggests his state should abolish its single-term limit for governors.

Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) gets booed over Obama’s contraception coverage plan.

Must-reads:

The GOP’s Fuzzy Delegate Math” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Mormon voters wary of too much public support for Romney” — Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

In the Romney Campaign, Everything Has Its Place” — Ashley Parker, New York Times

Read more from PostPolitics

Rick Santorum goes all in on culture wars

Santorum: JFK religion speech 'makes me throw up'

GOP governors on primary race: Let's wrap it up

Romney has ‘great friends that are NASCAR team owners’

 
Read what others are saying