The most credible contenders to take on President Obama in 2012 must deal first with vulnerabilities that threaten their standing in the GOP — “a deal-killer,” says Trey Grayson, a once-rising star in the Kentucky GOP who is director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
“Going into this cycle, every candidate you can envision being the nominee has a real question they have to answer to Republican primary voters,” says former GOP national chairman Ed Gillespie. “There’s really not any one of the most significant candidates who doesn’t have some issue that has to be addressed before they can capture the nomination.”
Having to deal with a big vulnerability isn’t new, of course. Four years ago, Arizona Sen. John McCain had to persuade party regulars that he was a loyal Republican despite a history of forming alliances with Democrats on issues such as campaign finance. He eventually won the nomination.
What’s notable this time is that everyone seems afflicted.
Some of the candidates have been caught in the party’s increasingly conservative tide, having to account for past positions on health care or the environment that weren’t so far out of the party’s mainstream at the time but now are more in line with Democrats’ views. What’s more, the profusion of websites and bloggers means issues are raised, circulated and scrutinized with a velocity that’s unprecedented.
She identifies several tactics for dealing with these shortcomings:
- Apologize (Pawlenty on cap-and-trade);
- Explain (Romney on Romneycare; Huckabee on the Clemmons commutation);
- Fix (Gingrich on faith and family; Barbour on race)
- Turn it around (Barbour on lobbying; Huntsman on his ambassadorship).
At The Washington Post, Dan Balz and Jon Cohen reports good news/bad news for the field:
Deepening economic pessimism has pushed down President Obama’s approval rating to a near record low, but he holds an early advantage over prospective 2012 rivals in part because of widespread dissatisfaction with Republican candidates, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
In the survey, 47 percent approve of the job Obama is doing, down seven points since January. Half of all Americans disapprove of his job performance, with 37 percent saying they “strongly disapprove,” nearly matching the worst level of his presidency.
Driving the downward movement in Obama’s standing are renewed concerns about the economy and fresh worry about rising prices, particularly for gasoline. Despite signs of economic growth, 44 percent of Americans see the economy as getting worse, the highest percentage to say so in more than two years.
The toll on Obama is direct: 57 percent disapprove of the job the president is doing dealing with the economy, tying his highest negative rating when it comes to the issue. And the president is doing a bit worse among politically important independents.
If Obama is running into headwinds, however, his potential Republican opponents face serious problems, as well. Less than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they are satisfied with the field of GOP candidates.
That field is still taking shape, but the sentiment is a big falloff from four years ago, when nearly two-thirds of Republicans were satisfied with their options.
Lack of enthusiasm for the candidates came in other measures, as well. When Republicans and GOP-leaners were asked who they would vote for in a primary or caucus, only former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney registered in double digits, with 16 percent. More than double that number expressed no opinion and an additional 12 percent volunteered “none” or “no one.”
Businessman Donald Trump (8 percent), former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (6 percent) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (5 percent) were the only other names volunteered by more than 2 percent of respondents.