Since the 2010 Midterms are over, the political chattering class is now focused on 2012. Public Policy Polling released several polls that examined how the Republicans under consideration for a White House run will do in several states. The polls found that Mitt Romney is ahead in the critical early primary state of Florida. Sarah Palin has leads in Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Maine. Gov. Pawlenty has a lead in Minnesota but it’s a small one. Just 19 percent of those polled in Minnesota support his presidential prospects. Palin is polling at 18 percent.
Pawlenty’s poor showing in the polls has led pollster Nate Silver to question why there’s so much buzz about Pawlenty’s prospects. The New York Times writer suggests Pawlenty is one of the 2012 hopefuls to “bet against.”
The analogy is to a baseball team that is 7 games out of first place at the All-Star break: how likely is this team to come back and win its division?
The answer depends to a great extent on how many other teams separate them from the first-place team. If they’re in second place in a two-team race, their odds really aren’t so bad: they just have to get hot, or the other team has to wilt down the stretch run, and they’ll have a pretty good chance.
But if they’re in, say, fifth place between a tightly-bunched group of front-runners (even if those front-runners are flawed in various ways), then making up a 7-game deficit is quite difficult. There’s now almost no chance that they can win just by watching the first-place team fold: the second-, third- and fourth-place teams would all have to do so as well. Instead, they’ll have to get really hot – and even if they do, they’ll have to hope none of the four teams in front of them get as hot or hotter. This is the situation that candidates like Mr. Pawlenty now find themselves in.
The other potential flaw in the analysis of candidates like Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Thune is that some seem to think it an asset that they are bland and unobjectionable. In a primary election that isn’t an asset, but a liability. A primary election isn’t a reality show in which candidates are eliminated one at a time for failing some challenge. Instead, voters pick the one candidate whom they most like, rather than the one they most dislike; a candidate who has strong favorables and strong unfavorables is going to be more people’s first choice than one whom everyone feels indifferent about. Someone with a more distinct and provocative brand – like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – might stand a better chance in an underdog role, although neither is likely to run for president in 2012.
One thing that could help Pawlenty’s standing are a large number of debates. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, CA announced that it intends to host the first 2012 GOP debate in the Spring of 2011. Right around the same time Pawlenty says he’ll announce whether he’ll make a run for the White House.
Another issue that could help him is if he catches fire for opposing the federal health care law. Pawlenty filed a motion today to request filing a friend of the court brief in a lawsuit challenging the federal health care law.