Just two months ago, Democratic Insiders also saw Romney as the lead GOP challenger for Obama to overcome, but today, they sound like that hurdle is considerably higher. "He is the best counter to Obama," said one Democratic Insider of the former Massachusetts governor. "He is an executive while Obama was a legislator. Romney ran a company--Obama never made a payroll. Romney created jobs--unemployment is 9 percent-plus under Obama." Echoed another, "Strong business background in a bad economy is a plus for him, as is the Massachusetts health care plan in a general election." Added a third: "He forces Obama to defend the Democratic base states, and will be able to talk about the economy better than any other Republican."
Democrats also thought Romney had gained experience from his unsuccessful run for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination and that he could win over swing voters, unlike some of his Republican rivals. "Has run before, looks presidential and unlike others not a total turn off to Dems and independents," observed a Democratic Insider. "He's got economic credibility, he seems smart, he has a bit of polish and he doesn't seem like a complete loon," said another Democrat. "None of the others have that whole package."
But other Democrats doubted that Romney or any other Republican would be able to beat Obama. "'Strongest' is a relative term," sniffed one Democratic Insider. "They have no strong candidate. The list is primarily wannabes." Said another, "Big weakness is that he is a phony flip-flopper and sadly, being a Mormon may hurt him with some evangelical Christians."
Still, most Democrats are not taking much for granted. "With Obama's approval rating at 40 percent and seemingly insensitive to jobs, Romney and either Bachmann or [Sen. Marco] Rubio [of Florida] would be [a] formidable [ticket]." Another said of Romney, "It looks like he's got the strongest campaign, he's raised the most money, and he's not part of the current morass in Washington."
Democratic Insiders thought Perry was the second strongest candidate the Republicans could nominate and pointed to his tenure as the Lone Star state's chief executive and ability to excite the tea party wing of the GOP. "He appeals to the base but he can be seen as a governor of a large and successful state," said one Democratic Insider. "It may or may not be that but you can make the argument." Another Democrat added, "He has a great economic story to tell. He's a governor." And as one Democratic Insider joked, "You can make a case that Perry can attract the reasonable while exciting the unreasonable in the Republican Party."
While they doubt he can get nomination, Democratic Insiders think Jon Huntsman, the former two-term Utah governor, would be a formidable opponent for Obama. "Huntsman has no chance of winning the GOP primary, maybe one percent," said a Democratic Insider. "But if he did, he is the one Republican I would be scared of. He is moderate, reasonable, and a D.C. outsider. Right now, if you are Obama '12, you have to be thanking your lucky stars for the deeply flawed Republican candidates." Echoed another GOP Insider, "He doesn't seem to be well-positioned to actually get the nomination, mind you, but if he did, he has the tone and acceptability to provide disenchanted voters a palatable alternative."
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got in the Republican race, some Democrats think he could be a particularly tough candidate for the Obama. "He shows decisive leadership which is a contrast from President Obama," said one Democratic Insider. "He connects with Joe Six-pack--another distinction from the incumbent." Added another on Christie, "His 'no BS' brass tacks style has great appeal to the majority of Americans sick of slippery politics and canned politicians."
And while he slipped recently, a few Democratic Insiders think former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty could be threat to an Obama second term. "He is moderate enough to attract disenchanted independents and can still draw the distinction on health care that Romney is unable to," said one Democratic Insider. But another averred, "T-Paw's only problem is low t[estosterone]."
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 Republican 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, Bob Maloney, Jim Manley, Steve Marchand, Jim Margolis, Paul Maslin, Keith Mason, Susan McCue, Gerald McEntee, Tom McMahon, Phil McNamara, David Medina, Michael Meehan, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Michael Monroe, Steve Murphy, Janet Napolitano, David Nassar, Marcia Nichols, John Norris, Tom Ochs, Tom O'Donnell, Jeffrey Peck, Debora Pignatelli, Tony Podesta, Jack Quinn, Larry Rasky, Mame Reiley, Ed Rendell, Steve Ricchetti, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, David Rudd, Ryan Rudominer, John Ryan, Michael Sargeant, Stephanie Schriock, Terry Shumaker, Sean Sinclair, Phil Singer, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Greg Speed, Darry Sragow, Ken Strasma, Doug Thornell, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Rick Wiener, James Williams, JoDee Winterhof, Brian Wolff, Jon Youngdahl, and Jim Zogby.