President Obama may be struggling with a bad economy and flagging poll numbers, but his party is still more popular than the alternative.
In addition, recent polling has shown Democrats re-asserting a lead on the generic ballot, when voters are given a choice between a nameless Democrat and a nameless Republican.
What it reveals is a conservative electorate that is very excited about beating Obama, but not so excited about putting Republicans back in power.
In fact, neither party has much to brag about. The Democrats’ favorable rating is as low as it has been at any time since 1984, and the GOP has been stuck at about a 40 percent favorable rating for the better part of the last four years.
The fact that Democrats have a better image than Republicans is nothing new — this has historically been the case, and was even the case in the lead-up to big GOP gains in 2010 — but as both parties’ reputations continue to decline, it’s logical to ask whether anybody will be anxious to vote Republican in 2012.
Polling has shown a significant enthusiasm gap in the GOP’s favor — as big as it was in advance of the 2010 election — but this doesn’t seem to translate to the generic ballot and the favorable images of the two parties.
Former Republican National Committeeman David Norcross said the distinction “may be result of president who can’t govern but can campaign. But it won’t hold up for Democrats in a presidential election where Obama, not the Republican Congress, will tell the tale.”
GOP strategist Dan Hazelwood told The Fix that the GOP’s low favorable number has a lot to do with the tea party, whose members often bristle at the party label and don’t like what the party establishment stands for. So while they might be reliable and enthusiastic voters for GOP candidates, they still view the party unfavorably.
He also said the Republican brand is largely hypothetical, given the lack of a presidential nominee.
“Voters will weigh that candidate as a credible alternative to Obama,” Hazelwood said. “If they find the Republican credible, then Obama is doomed if people think he can’t lead us out of this mess.”
Even as the GOP brand has kept about a 40 percent favorable rating in recent years, the number who strongly approve of the party has dropped from 19 percent in Feb. 2010 to 13 percent today — a reflection that the enthusiasm behind the brand isn’t what it used to be.
The GOP enthusiasm seems to lie right now almost exclusively behind beating Obama, rather than electing Republican candidates.
“This is still very much a populist environment,” GOP strategist Brian Donahue said. “If Republicans fail to hold the line on spending and taxes and fail to present a plan for fixing the direction of our country, they will face tough elections next fall.”
Running against Obama has worked and still can, as long as the GOP nominee is capable and exciting, but right now Republicans are really counting on the top of the ballot to carry them to victory in 2012.
Cain update: On Wednesday, two more shoes dropped in the Herman Cain sexual harassment controversy.
GOP pollster Chris Wilson, who polled for the National Restaurant Association when Cain headed the organization in the 1990s and is working for the super PAC supporting Rick Perry, said that he personally witnessed Cain harassing a woman but declined to share details, and Iowa radio host Steve Deace said he had seen some inappropriate interactions between Cain and female members of his staff. In addition, a third woman came forward (anonymously) saying she considered filing a sexual harassment complaint against Cain at the NRA.
To be clear, neither of these is a death blow, considering Wilson’s ties to Perry and the ambiguity of the other allegations. But they do add to the narrative.
Also, the accuser who asked the NRA to lift its confidentiality agreement won’t be speaking publicly, and Cain is suggesting the story emanated from Perry’s campaign, noting that Perry consultant Curt Anderson worked on Cain’s 2004 Georgia Senate campaign; Anderson denies it. And Perry’s campaign, meanwhile, suggests it was Mitt Romney’s campaign.
And Newt Gingrich is (surprise!) taking Cain’s side.
Kentucky GOP Senate candidate David Williams throws something at the wall and hopes it sticks against Gov. Steve Beshear (D) in next week’s election.
A new poll in Texas shows Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst leading former state solicitor general Ted Cruz 22 percent to 10 percent in a crowded GOP Senate primary, but 50 percent are undecided.
Former Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri (R) gets involved in the contested GOP primary to face embattled Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
Democratic super PAC Priorities USA goes up with a $100,000 ad buy against Romney.
With former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) primed to get into the North Dakota Senate race, the state Republican Party has taken out full-page ads in the Bismarck Tribune and the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (a former emplyer of FixAaron!) hitting her as a liberal who supported Obama’s health care bill.
“Romney’s Mormonism To Be A Bigger Issue In The General Election, Say Evangelicals” — Jon Ward, Huffington Post
“In Indiana’s 9th District, lawmakers change and only the anger endures” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post
“As governor, Romney worked to reassure liberals” — Peter Wallsten, Washington Post
“MF Global ties awkward for Obama campaign” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post