If Republicans had to choose their presidential candidate today, they’d probably do best to pick former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, according to Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen. However, Jensen notes that Huckabee isn’t necessarily a good choice, but merely the most viable contender the GOP has right now.
Jensen’s argument is essentially twofold. First, Huckabee is far more electable than Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin. And second, the GOP’s conservative base is way more enthusiastic about Huckabee than they are about Mitt Romney.
Huckabee’s the only one of the top Republicans who has the combination of electability and base appeal it’s going to take to beat Barack Obama. Romney has the electability but not the base appeal, Palin has the base appeal but not the electability, and Gingrich sort of falls in the middle on both counts.
In PPP’s hypothetical 2012 matchups of nine swing states—Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin—Huckabee has topped Obama in three states, including a solid 10-point edge in Montana. Palin led in just one state, with a one-point edge in Montana. Gingrich led in two states, but only by slim margins of one in Missouri and two in Montana. And overall in those polls, Huckabee has trailed by an average of two points, while Gingrich and Palin have trailed by averages of seven and 11 points, respectively.
As for Romney, Jensen writes that while he performed slightly better than Huckabee in the swing state polls—he trailed Obama by an average of just one point—his 58% favorability rating among conservatives is 15 points worse than Huckabee’s 73%. Republicans will probably need a large turnout in 2012 to unseat Obama, and the party faithful are more likely to vote if they strongly support their candidate.
However, Jensen says that though Huckabee is the best choice so far, he’s only the strongest candidate in a weak field.
If [Obama’s] beating them right now, two months removed from his party getting annihilated at the polls in the midterm election, then he’s really going to be knocking them out of the park if his numbers ever see any real improvement—and if I had to put money on it I’d say they will eventually.
Those four candidates are widely viewed as the front runners for the GOP nomination, and the only prospective candidates — maybe with the exception of Ron Paul — with a real national presence. Yet none of them are particularly well liked nationally, and as Jensen says, the GOP might have a better shot if a new contender emerges to seize the party mantle.
Read the whole thing here.