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May 13, 2011, 11:34 a.m.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie (R) won a WH ‘12 straw poll at a tea party gath­er­ing 10/8 in Rich­mond, VA, tak­ing 14% and nar­rowly upend­ing Tea Party fa­vor­ites like ex-AK Gov. Sarah Pal­in (R), who earned 13.5%, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who took 12.5%.

The 15-way poll, con­duc­ted among 1,560 con­ven­tion at­tendees (more than double the count at the Val­ues Voters Sum­mit last month), was pro­jec­ted to be the good in­dic­at­or of the WH ‘12 cli­mate.

VA Tea Party Pat­ri­ots Fed­er­a­tion chair Jam­ie Radtke: “This poll is unique be­cause, for the first time, it takes the pulse of a num­ber of Tea Party Pat­ri­ot and 9/12 or­gan­iz­a­tions. While it is early in the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion cycle, Amer­ic­ans are en­gaged and en­er­gized about the lead­er­ship of Amer­ica.”

If noth­ing else, the num­bers re­veal the pref­er­ences of fisc­al con­ser­vat­ives—as op­posed to so­cial con­ser­vat­ives who favored Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) in the Val­ues Voters Sum­mit poll—who are un­doubtedly wooed by the ac­col­ades sur­round­ing Christie for his hand­ling of NJ’s eco­nomy. Cur­rently, he main­tains the highest ap­prov­al rat­ing of any politi­cian in the coun­try.

Oth­ers on the bal­lot in­cluded ex-Speak­er Newt Gin­grich (R), Sen. Jim De­Mint (R-SC), LA Gov. Bobby Jin­dal (R), ex-AR Gov. Mike Hucka­bee (R), IN Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), Rep. Michele Bach­mann (R-MN), Pence, ex-MA Gov. Mitt Rom­ney (R), MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), and ex-Sen. Rick San­tor­um (R-PA).

The out­come is sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing that some names on the bal­lot had faces to ac­com­pany them at the con­ven­tion—Paul and San­tor­um both made ap­pear­ances—and the fact that Christie has re­it­er­ated his dis­in­terest in the bid time and time again. What’s more, it could stir up prob­lems for Christie, who has care­fully hedged any dir­ect in­volve­ment with the Tea Party, giv­en that the line the move­ment is at­tempt­ing to draw between its mem­bers and es­tab­lish­ment GOP­ers is get­ting thick­er all the time (“On Call,” 10/9).

Gin­grich fin­ished third with 8.4%, while De­Mint, a Tea Party fa­vor­ite, took fourth with 7.3% (Cain, Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch, 10/10).

Ex-CNN com­ment­at­or Lou Dobbs key­noted the event, “which, ac­cord­ing to co­ordin­at­ors, had 2,800 re­gistered at­tendees.” Speak­ing at the end of 10/9, “Dobbs ad­dressed the crowd on the prin­ciples of the Tea Party move­ment and how grass­roots or­gan­izers can’t give up now.” Dobbs: “That is a les­son both polit­ic­al parties will learn from you. It is now time for you, the ma­jor­ity, to be heard in our na­tion’s cap­it­al.”

Mean­while, “Paul fo­cused much of his speech on the strength of the Tea Party move­ment - hon­ing in on how he be­lieves it’s an in­tel­lec­tu­al move­ment, not a polit­ic­al move­ment.” Paul: “Isn’t it great that we’re talk­ing about the right for states to nul­li­fy bad fed­er­al laws?”

An­oth­er ma­jor theme of Paul’s speech to the con­ven­tion was the im­port­ance of in­di­vidu­al free­dom from gov’t tyranny. Paul: “I be­lieve gov­ern­ments re­flect their people.”

‘04 GA SEN can­did­ate/ex-God­fath­er’s Pizza CEO Her­man Cain (R) kicked off the 10/9 events with a head­lining speech - and he hin­ted the most of any po­ten­tial WH ‘12 can­did­ate at a run for the WH. Cain: “I might do something crazy. I might just run for pres­id­ent” (Boyle, Daily Caller, 10/9).

Down To Busi­ness In Bakersfield

Mean­while, three po­ten­tial GOP WH ‘12 con­tenders “tested their mes­sages” 10/9 in the San Joa­quin Val­ley, “mix­ing pat­ri­ot­ism with at­tacks” on Obama and the polit­ic­al left “for an ap­pre­ci­at­ive crowd at the Bakersfield Busi­ness Con­fer­ence.”

Gin­grich, Rom­ney and Pal­in all spoke at the event, “which was held for the first time in five years.”

“None men­tioned the oth­ers, fo­cus­ing in­stead on at­tack­ing” Dems “and hit­ting broad-based themes on how the U.S. has fallen down — but can be great again.” Rom­ney: “Who ever thought that we’d look back at the Jimmy Carter years as the good ol’ days?”

Gin­grich hit not only on Dems in D.C., but the Dem-dom­in­ated CA Le­gis­lature, the city of Los Angeles, ten­ured fac­ulty at the Univ. of CA at Berke­ley and the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals.

“Pal­in, however, ruled the day.” Bakersfield atty George Mar­tin — the host and driv­ing force be­hind the busi­ness con­fer­ence — in­tro­duced Pal­in by say­ing: “You’re look­ing at the next pres­id­ent of the United States.”

“In re­sponse, she offered up the most par­tis­an speech of the day.” She called the Dem-backed health-care re­form bill that passed earli­er this year a “job killer” and the “moth­er of all un­fun­ded man­dates” that will res­ult in “ra­tion­ing health care.”

She summed up by call­ing mod­er­ate GOP­ers “the cock­tail-party wing” of the GOP and cast the cur­rent Tea Party move­ment as “com­mon man” versus “rul­ing class.” Dur­ing her speech, “ap­plause rang out in­side the massive tent” (El­lis, Fresno Bee, 10/11).

Polls these days show an un­usu­ally large de­gree of volat­il­ity. In the nine most re­cent polls covered by Real­Clear­Polit­ics.com, Pres­id­ent Obama’s job ap­prov­al rat­ings have ranged from 44 per­cent to 53 per­cent, the highest any na­tion­al poll has shown since last May, soon after Osama bin Laden was killed. In gen­er­al, in elec­tion match­ups between Obama and former Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, the range is from a tie in the new Gal­lup/USA Today na­tion­al sur­vey to a 10-point lead for Obama. When matched up against former Sen. Rick San­tor­um, the range has been from a San­tor­um lead of three points to Obama be­ing up by 11 points.

In such situ­ations, the first thing to do is to knock out the high and low polls and av­er­age the rest; it’s the easi­est way to provide a con­trol for the in­ev­it­able out­lier sur­veys. In terms of Obama’s job ap­prov­al, the re­main­ing sev­en av­er­aged 47 per­cent. It should be noted, though, that the three highest, all 50 per­cent, were from two weeks ago. Go­ing in­to Elec­tion Day, an in­cum­bent wants to see a job ap­prov­al rat­ing of 50 per­cent or high­er. But one with 48 or 49 per­cent ap­prov­al can still win by a nose. Pres­id­ent George W. Bush did this, with a 48 per­cent job ap­prov­al rat­ing in the fi­nal Gal­lup Poll be­fore his nar­row, 51 per­cent-to-48 per­cent win over John Kerry in 2004.

In the Obama-Rom­ney tri­al heats, the av­er­age of the sev­en rep­res­en­ted a 7-point lead for the in­cum­bent. When up against San­tor­um, it was just un­der an 8-point lead. Tri­al heat fig­ures this far out do not have as good a track re­cord of in­dic­at­ing elec­tion out­comes as later ones. The takeaway from these num­bers is that the elect­ab­il­ity premi­um that Rom­ney had over San­tor­um has, for now, vir­tu­ally evap­or­ated. It’s not to say there isn’t a lot more for Demo­crats to ex­ploit run­ning against San­tor­um than against Rom­ney. But the nat­ur­al edge is largely gone, with very dif­fer­ent res­ults from a few months ago — though ad­mit­tedly, San­tor­um was an un­known then.

Elec­tions and pub­lic at­ti­tudes to­ward elec­tions tend to have a lot of mov­ing parts. Now, not un­ex­pec­tedly, there are a lot of con­flict­ing dy­nam­ics at work. Keep in mind that 90-plus per­cent of the voters who con­sider them­selves Re­pub­lic­ans will vote for the GOP nom­in­ee, re­gard­less. The same can be said for self-de­scribed Demo­crats vot­ing for their can­did­ate. The volat­il­ity comes with the third or so of voters who con­sider them­selves in­de­pend­ents. Poll­sters say that these in­de­pend­ents are ser­i­ously cross-pres­sured.

Most in­de­pend­ents like Obama per­son­ally, but are un­der­whelmed by his per­form­ance so far. Some are dis­ap­poin­ted; some dis­agree with some of his de­cisions or pri­or­it­ies. With Obama’s job ap­prov­al rat­ings among in­de­pend­ents run­ning at just 45 per­cent — well un­der the 52 per­cent of the vote he re­ceived from in­de­pend­ents in 2008 — that dis­en­chant­ment is clear. Obama clearly be­ne­fit­ted for a time from the now-21 weeks of more pos­it­ive than neg­at­ive eco­nom­ic news, as re­por­ted by the ISI Group. But at the same time, gas­ol­ine prices are at an un­pre­ced­en­ted high for this time of year, more than a dol­lar high­er than this sea­son’s av­er­age over the last six years. Gas­ol­ine prices also al­most al­ways go up over the spring and early sum­mer.

Not only does the “pain at the pump” polit­ic­ally hurt an in­cum­bent, but with so many Amer­ic­ans liv­ing on pinched budgets these days, money spent filling up their tanks is money not spent in stores. The neg­at­ive eco­nom­ic im­pact of high gas­ol­ine prices is in­dis­put­able. Thus, the dy­nam­ic that drove Obama’s job ap­prov­al rat­ing up this year is now threatened by high­er gas­ol­ine prices. In the ab­sence of a res­ol­u­tion of ten­sions in the Mideast and spe­cific­ally Ir­an, fall­ing gas prices and climb­ing rat­ings aren’t likely to hap­pen.

At the same time, these in­de­pend­ents feel in­creas­ingly es­tranged from Re­pub­lic­ans. GOP pres­id­en­tial con­tenders are fall­ing over them­selves to curry fa­vor with the party’s con­ser­vat­ive base and tea party act­iv­ists. These in­de­pend­ents are cool­ing to­ward the party they sup­por­ted by an 18-point mar­gin in the 2010 elec­tion as well.

There is no ques­tion: Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t look­ing so good at the mo­ment. But just as things looked pretty bleak for Obama and Demo­crats four and eight months ago, what is far more rel­ev­ant is how things look four, and most of all, eight months from now, head­ing in­to Elec­tion Day. Re­pub­lic­ans cur­rently suf­fer from self-in­flic­ted wounds. Pres­id­ent Obama and Demo­crats are hurt by factors largely bey­ond their con­trol. Those who are act­ing as if this elec­tion is over are be­ing very pre­ma­ture. But, at the same time, each side has plenty to worry about as they look for­ward to the next eight months.

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