Politics: Congress

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June 1, 2011, 11 a.m.

An EPIC-MRA poll; con­duc­ted 10/3-7 for the De­troit Free Press/WXYZ-TV; sur­veyed 600 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.0% (re­lease, 10/10). Tested: Lans­ing May­or Virg Bernero (D) and ex-busi­ness ex­ec. Rick Snyder (R).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

- Now 9/12 8/23 6/15 5/26 3/31 R. Snyder 49% 53% 51% 49% 51% 42% V. Bernero 29 29 29 34 28 26 Oth­er 4 3 n/a n/a n/a n/a Un­dec 18 15 20 17 21 32

Fav/Un­fav

- Now 9/12 8/23 6/15 5/26 3/31 R. Snyder 42%/20% 50%/16% 48%/12% 29%/ 9% 26%/ 8% 18%/ 6% V. Bernero 27 /36 23 /33 22 /27 14 / 9 9 / 6 8 / 6

(For more from this poll, please see today’s MI In The States story.)

Pres­id­ent Obama was sup­posed to have a bil­lion-dol­lar bank­roll for his cam­paign, Rick Perry was go­ing to be Mitt Rom­ney’s chief chal­lenger, and Rick San­tor­um as­suredly would be an af­ter­thought. But the biggest mis­con­cep­tion this elec­tion sea­son is the de­pic­tion of Rom­ney as a fatally flawed front-run­ner who stands little chance at de­feat­ing Obama.

Con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­or George Will ad­vanced this ar­gu­ment re­cently, call­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans to give up on the pres­id­en­tial race — in March! — in or­der to pre­serve Sen­ate and House seats. Even among nom­in­al Rom­ney sup­port­ers, the pess­im­ism is palp­able.

It’s easy to un­der­stand. Rom­ney still hasn’t been able to close out the nom­in­a­tion, des­pite run­ning against a lackluster field. His fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings are un­der­wa­ter. He can come across as pain­fully out of touch. But all these factors, mag­ni­fied by the hour-to-hour glare of the me­dia, ob­scure some fun­da­ment­al as­sets he would bring to a race against Obama.

Here are sev­er­al of the biggest myths:

Health care is Mitt’s ma­jor al­batross. It has be­come ac­cep­ted wis­dom that Rom­ney won’t be able to at­tack the pres­id­ent on one of his biggest weak­nesses — an un­pop­u­lar health care law — be­cause the plan he de­vised as Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor bears some sim­il­ar­it­ies, par­tic­u­larly the in­di­vidu­al man­date. Obama’s health care law is grow­ing less pop­u­lar: Last week’s ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll found more than two-thirds either sup­port re­peal­ing the law en­tirely (42 per­cent) or elim­in­at­ing the man­date only (25 per­cent).

For a sign of just how un­pop­u­lar the law is, White House ad­viser Dav­id Plouffe went on last week’s Sunday shows and tried as hard as pos­sible to give Rom­ney own­er­ship rights. But there’s one can­did­ate who will cam­paign on the law (Obama) and one who will cam­paign on re­peal (Rom­ney). It’s hard to see many voters who op­pose the law de­cid­ing to sup­port Obama on the grounds that Rom­ney’s op­pos­i­tion isn’t prin­cipled. And in a gen­er­al elec­tion, Rom­ney’s at­tacks will fo­cus less on the man­date it­self (a big­ger primary vul­ner­ab­il­ity) and more on the law’s costs and reg­u­la­tions amid a strug­gling eco­nomy.

The law touches all kinds of pres­sure points that should mo­tiv­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents — the fed­er­al de­fi­cit, taxes, reg­u­la­tion, and, most re­cently, re­li­gious free­dom. As­sum­ing the Su­preme Court up­holds the law or tosses out just the in­di­vidu­al man­date, Rom­ney will have a gold mine of cam­paign ma­ter­i­al to work with this sum­mer. If Rom­ney can’t take ad­vant­age of that, his team will be guilty of polit­ic­al mal­prac­tice.

Rom­ney is a highly un­pop­u­lar front-run­ner. The lengthy primary has dam­aged his stand­ing, as polls show his fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing in neg­at­ive ter­rit­ory. However, that could change if Rom­ney se­cures the nom­in­a­tion and fully ad­vances a gen­er­al-elec­tion mes­sage without tak­ing snip­ing from the left and right. Drag­ging down Rom­ney’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings is his poor stand­ing among the most ar­dently con­ser­vat­ive voters. If the base settles on him, his ap­prov­al num­bers should, at worst, re­vert to a re­spect­able range.

Fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings for chal­lengers this far out aren’t par­tic­u­larly pre­dict­ive. Then-Gov. Bill Clin­ton owned a dis­mal 34 per­cent fa­vor­able rat­ing versus 46 per­cent un­fa­vor­able in April 1992, when head­lines blared that his sex scan­dals made him un­elect­able against Pres­id­ent George H.W. Bush. Former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mi­chael Duka­kis spor­ted strong fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings in­to the sum­mer of 1988, be­fore the Bush cam­paign ex­ploited his vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.

Rom­ney’s fun­da­ment­al weak­ness, his aura of be­ing a wealthy cap­it­al­ist lack­ing the per­son­al touch, is a gen­er­al-elec­tion li­ab­il­ity. Yet there’s also reas­on to be­lieve that in­de­pend­ent voters, look­ing for a less ideo­lo­gic­al can­did­ate, will ap­pre­ci­ate Rom­ney’s prag­mat­ic streak. These voters place high value on a can­did­ate’s eco­nom­ic com­pet­ence.

Rom­ney can’t win over con­ser­vat­ives. MS­N­BC’s Joe Scar­bor­ough, re­act­ing to Rom­ney’s poor South­ern primary show­ings, wrote this week: “There was a time when the South was solidly Re­pub­lic­an but those days are gone.” That could qual­i­fy as one of the whop­pers of the elec­tion cycle.

At a time when con­ser­vat­ive ire against Obama boils, it would be shock­ing if Rom­ney en­coun­ters ser­i­ous dif­fi­culty win­ning over or en­er­giz­ing the base. In South Car­o­lina, which de­livered a sting­ing re­jec­tion to the GOP front-run­ner, 86 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said they would sup­port Rom­ney if he emerged as the nom­in­ee — a sol­id tally, giv­en the ac­ri­mo­ni­ous primary. (For com­par­is­on’s sake, exit polls showed only 73 per­cent of Pennsylvania Demo­crat­ic primary voters would sup­port Obama against John Mc­Cain in 2008. Obama ul­ti­mately car­ried the Key­stone State’s Demo­crat­ic vote by 90 per­cent.)

Mean­while, Rom­ney’s abil­ity to win over a key swing demo­graph­ic in this elec­tion — up­per-in­come sub­urb­an whites — is a sig­ni­fic­ant as­set. Look at the 2012 primary res­ults thus far where Rom­ney has per­formed strongest. He car­ried most of the swing-state sub­urb­an counties — Frank­lin, Ohio; Hamilton, Ohio; Oak­land, Mich.; and Or­ange, Fla., to name but a few. These are the very parts of the coun­try where Re­pub­lic­ans must com­pete to win in Novem­ber.

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