Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When You Can't Beat Mr. Generic

Is Newt Gingrich the front-runner in the GOP race?  It's a close call.  Gingrich has healthy leads in the early caucus and primary states, with the exception of New Hampshire and leads nationally.  The latest polling averages, which are somewhat in flux following Herman Cain's exit, but are trending towards Gingrich as a result of that line-up change are as follows:
Iowa: Gingrich +14%
New Hampshire: Romney +12%
South Carolina: Gingrich +21%
Florida: Gingrich +24%
Nationally: Gingrich +13%

If the primaries were all held today, I have no doubt that Gingrich would be the nominees.  But, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, if the election were held today, we'd all be a bit confused, because we thought it was scheduled for later.

Romney still leads in the betting money, although the gap has narrowed.  He is now 46% to win the nod on Intrade, with Gingrich up to 35%, Jon Huntsman at 8% and Ron Paul at 7%.  4% belongs to the collection of "all other" that includes Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and whatever other also rans you want to throw in the mix.

So, it's a 4-way race, but really a 3-way race if you exclude the crazy money behind Ron Paul (not going to happen...I'll give you those 15:1 odds all day long, just send your checks in), maybe a 2-way race if you don't think Jon Huntsman has a shot (I'm not ready to totally write him off, but I would consider those odds optimistic, to say the least.)

So, is Gingrich the front-runner?  Not clearly yet, but he's trending that way.  You can forgive the betting public for not being full believers yet - they've seen a lot of people lead the polls briefly and fade fast.  Gingrich seems a little more sticky than Trump, Bachmann, Perry and Cain and he is certainly better known.

But let's play along for a second.  Let's say Newt gets the nomination.  He has a big problem in the general.  People like him a whole lot less than a "generic" Republican.

The polls bear out the huge headwind.  President Obama is at the low point of his popularity, with his approve minus disapprove floating around the -10% range.  In other words, if the election were today and it were an up or down vote on Barack Obama, the President would lose by 10 points.

If you pit the President against an unnamed Republican, he fares pretty close to that 10 point margin.  The latest Rasmussen tracking poll (the only recent poll pitting Obama against an unnamed Republican) shows the President trailing "Mr. Generic" by 8%.

But the President won't be running against Mr. Generic.  If he runs against a different Mr. G, Mr. Newt Gingrich, he fares a whole lot better.  Against Newt, the President leads by an average of 5% nationally in recent polls.  He leads comfortably in the critical swing state of Colorado.  He leads by healthy margins in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He is ahead in Florida.  He's even in John McCain's Arizona.

If this is what Newt Gingrich looks like against Obama when Obama's approval rating is this bad, how ugly would this map look for Gingrich if the economy recovers or Obama's popularity recovers?

What the heck is the GOP thinking?

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