You know that person who tries a little too hard for everyone to like them. They laugh too loudly at every joke; they are perhaps a bit too friendly around the office; they always want to go out for drinks after work, but no one really wants to hang out with them. They might be a new transfer from another city. Maybe, they are just a little too awkward and self-conscious. It’s not that everyone hates them. There might even be a few people who think they’re OK. They just don’t have a lot of fans. Mitt Romney is that guy of the 2012 presidential election.
Romney has been running for president now for five years. He’s faced off in eight primaries and caucuses in 2012 and was on the ballot in 30 states in 2008 before dropping out of the presidential race. Consider the most recent public opinion polling on the GOP race. It’s not a pretty story for Romney and provides compelling evidence of the extent to which rank-and-file Republicans remain decidedly unimpressed with and uninterested in Romney.
While the Gallup daily tracker has Romney with a two-point lead over his latest competitor Rick Santorum; Pew and CNN give Santorum the edge by a similar margin. Rasmussen has Romney down by 12, and Public Policy Polling (PPP) gives Santorum a 15-point advantage. In fact, in a head-to-head match-up, PPP has Romney losing by 24 points to Santorum. Romney’s polling numbers within the GOP remain where they’ve been for much of the year — around 25-35 per cent support — and rarely much higher.
In Michigan, site of one of the next Republican primaries, Romney is trailing Santorum in every recent poll and has an overall favourability/unfavourability in the state of 29/58. Still, even among Republicans, Romney’s favourabilites have plunged by 28 points in Michigan since the summer. Across the country, Romney’s favourabilities have steadily gotten worse. More than half of all Americans view the former Massachusetts governor in negative terms. Republicans themselves are evenly divided on Romney, with 44 per cent viewing him favourably and 43 per cent not viewing him favourably (though that’s PPP; other polls give him slightly better marks). Quite simply, the more voters have come in contact with Mitt Romney, the less they have come to like him.
Santorum’s star rising?
What makes all this even more shocking is who Romney is losing to — Rick Santorum. This is hardly a figure who, until about two weeks ago, anyone would have considered a formidable political force. He lost his last Senate race by 18 points. Even after he won the Iowa caucus, his political fortunes barely shifted, as he finished third or fourth in the subsequent New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada votes.
Two months ago, Santorum was a mere afterthought in the GOP primary race and polling in the single digits. Even now, Santorum has no advance staff, no pollsters and few of the trappings of the modern presidential campaign and yet, after his three caucus and primary wins recently, he is arguably, today, the Republicans’ presidential front-runner.
Romney’s solution for dealing with these upstarts has been to run millions of dollars in negative ads. It’s a strategy he utilised to great effect against Gingrich, and he may do the same with Santorum in upcoming primaries in Michigan and Arizona.
This is not the profile of a candidate who beats an incumbent president with loads of money and very strong support within his own party. In the American political system, it’s awfully hard to beat an incumbent. When they do fall, the incumbents have some combination of three problems: they are facing off against an effective and enthusiastically supported challenger; they are hobbled by a lack of support within their own party; and they are generally dealing with an under-performing economy.
President Barack Obama has the latter problem, but neither of the former. To beat an incumbent, the stars need to be clearly aligned in one’s favour. There is very little to date that suggests this is the case for Mitt Romney.
He remains the Republican candidate who Republicans might support if they have to but that guy in the sweater vest seems like he might be more fun.