While he was hardly their runaway choice, Democratic Insiders who thought Romney would be the GOP's strongest nominee cited his knowledge of the economy and business, and his experience as a White House candidate in 2008. At times they sounded as more positive than Republican Insiders who thought Romney was the candidate most likely to win the GOP nomination. "[The] Republican establishment will need to grit their teeth and realize it's Romney or four more years of Obama," said one Democratic Insider. "He's relatively road-tested, compared to with most of the list [of GOP contenders]," noted another.
Even Romney's Mormon faith--which he shares with Huntsman--was not see as a major impediment. "Being Mormon is OK too," observed one Democratic Insider. "If America can elect JFK and Obama, the tent is big enough to fit a Mormon in it."
But some Democrats also thought Romney might just be the best of a weak Republican field. "Romney is their alternative [to Obama]--they don't have a good alternative," said one Democratic Insider.
Democratic Insiders could list several reasons why Huntsman might be Obama's biggest threat. Several said he had the best chance of the Republican contenders to appeal to swing voters. "Huntsman would be very attractive to independents and moderate voters," said a Democratic Insider. "And by locating his campaign headquarters in the swing state of Florida instead of that citadel of conservative orthodoxy known as Utah, he is reinforcing his image as an independent."
Others thought that his service as Ambassador to China for nearly two years for Obama gave him credibility in foreign affairs which the GOP field largely lacks. But the Democrats also acknowledged that the appointment could cut both ways. "Although I think his time with Obama will stop him from being nominated, I think Huntsman would appeal to independents and conservative Democrats and could beat Obama," said one Democratic Insider. "He seems to be staking out ground as the 'most electable candidate,' meaning least ideological," observed one Democratic Insider. "That may be bad primary politics but it's smart positioning if they intend to actually try to beat Obama."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the third choice of Democratic Insiders, was seen as someone whose working class roots and moderate demeanor could draw support from independent voters. And his two-term tenure in swing state Minnesota suggested to some that Pawlenty could be competitive in Midwestern battleground states like his own. "In a close election Pawlenty would probably carry Minnesota," said a Democratic Insider. "Romney can't say the same about Massachusetts."
At the same time, Democrats noted Pawlenty's lack of charisma. "He's bland enough so he won't distract voters from the main GOP issue which is the economy," said one Democratic Insider. "Boring, but has the best ability to connect with independent voters," said another.
Rounding out the top five were two GOP contenders who are not even in the race: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Christie was seen as a candidate who could play in the Northeast, connect with swing voters and also exuded strength. Perry was viewed as someone who had the advantages of a coming from a mega-state with a strong donor base.
The National Journal Political Insiders Poll is a regular survey of political operatives, strategists, campaign consultants and lobbyists in both parties. Below are the names of the Democratic Insiders who are surveyed:
Jill Alper, John Anzalone, Brad Bannon, Dave Beattie, Andy Bechhoefer, Cornell Belcher, Matt Bennett, Mitchell W. Berger, Mike Berman, Stephanie Bosh, Paul Brathwaite, Donna Brazile, Mark Brewer, Ed Bruley, George Bruno, Deb Callahan, Bonnie Campbell, Bill Carrick, Guy Cecil, Martin J. Chavez, Tony Coelho, Larry Cohen, Jerry Crawford, Brendan Daly, Jeff Danielson, Peter Daou, Howard Dean, Scott DeFife, Jim Demers, Tad Devine, David Di Martino, Debbie Dingell, Monica Dixon, Patrick Dorton, Pat Dujakovich, Anita Dunn, Jeff Eller, Steve Elmendorf, Carter Eskew, Vic Fazio, Peter Fenn, Scott Ferson, Jim Fleischmann, Tina Flournoy, Don Foley, Jeffrey Forbes, Vincent Frillici, Gina Glantz, Niles Godes, John Michael Gonzalez, Joe Grandmaison, Anna Greenberg, Stan Greenberg, Pat Griffin, Larry Grisolano, Michael Gronstal, Lisa Grove, Marcia Hale, Jill Hanauer, Dick Harpootlian, Paul Harstad, Laura Hartigan, Doug Hattaway, Mike Henry, Karen Hicks, Leo Hindery Jr., Harold Ickes, Marcus Jadotte, John Jameson, Steve Jarding, Jonathon Jones, Jim Jordan, Gale Kaufman, Lisa Kountoupes, Celinda Lake, David Lang, Penny Lee, Chris Lehane, Jeff Link, Bill Lynch, Bob Maloney, Steve Marchand, Jim Margolis, Paul Maslin, Keith Mason, Susan McCue, Gerald McEntee, Tom McMahon, Phil McNamara, David Medina, Michael Meehan, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Steve Murphy, Janet Napolitano, David Nassar, Marcia Nichols, John Norris, Tom Ochs, Tom O'Donnell, Scott Parven, Jeffrey Peck, Debora Pignatelli, Tony Podesta, Jack Quinn, Larry Rasky, Mame Reiley, Steve Ricchetti, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, David Rudd, Ryan Rudominer, John Ryan, Michael Sargeant, Stephanie Schriock, Wendy Sherman, Terry Shumaker, Sean Sinclair, Phil Singer, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Greg Speed, Darry Sragow, Ken Strasma, Katrina Swett Sarah, Swisher, Doug Thornell, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Rick Wiener, James Williams, JoDee Winterhof, Brian Wolff, Jon Youngdahl, and Jim Zogby.
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