Part of the reason all of the GOP's leading contenders to face Barack Obama next year currently trail him is that voters see them more as running mates than as presidents.
Yesterday's release showed that Obama is vulnerable to an empty-vessel generic Republican and even trails a specifically moderate Republican by two points while only leading a Tea Partier by four. Yet in that same poll, the closest any of the flesh-and-blood, well-known Republicans tested against the president could get was Mike Huckabee's three-point deficit, narrowly ahead of Mitt Romney's five-point gulf. Newt Gingrich and Tea Party hero Sarah Palin were way behind (by nine and 14 points, respectively).
A clue to this discrepancy is not only that all but Huckabee have negative favorability ratings.
Another is that when asked whether they view these candidates as more suited to be Commander in Chief or Numero Dos, voters see only Romney as more presidential than vice-presidential material (30-20). And even then, half of voters aren't sure.
For Huckabee, that is 22-27, with 51% unsure. For Gingrich, 16-27 (57% unsure). And for Palin, last election's GOP VP nominee, the divide is 16-32 (52% unsure).
Tuesday's release showed that among even Republicans, only Romney and Huckabee are viewed as more fit for the Oval Office than for a warm bucket of spit. If you can't convince your own base that you're ready for the task, you'll be hard-pressed to not only get the nomination but convince swing voters that you are.
Since Palin turns off Democrats more than anyone else except maybe George W. Bush, you'd think they were the ones driving sentiment against her. But interestingly, while Palin does unsurprisingly worst overall, Democrats actually give her better marks (7-16) than they do for Huckabee (8-21) or Gingrich (4-18). Romney nearly breaks even across the aisle, 13-16.
Rather, it's independents who most strongly slot Palin at the bottom of the ticket, 13-34. Palin also turns off independents far more than the others do. By contrast, unaffiliated voters break almost 2:1 (37-19) for Romney's White House ambitions and respective 21-32 and 15-28 against Huckabee's and Gingrich's.
And lest anyone suggest sexism, women are even more fine than men with keeping the glass ceiling in place for Palin, saying by a 12-30 margin that she's better off for the job McCain picked her for; that compares to men's 20-33. Those are the worst marks of anyone with the female gender. They say Romney is fit for president by four points, and they give Huckabee only a -3 and Gingrich a -13. Romney is also the only one with positive marks from men (35-18), versus 24-30 for Huckabee and 19-29 for Gingrich.
It's pretty safe to say that whoever wins the nomination, even Romney, is going to have to do a better job when taking on an incumbent president of more definitively staking out an image that suggests to voters that he or she belongs at the Resolute Desk in front of those yellow curtains. The hard thing for these frontrunners is that they're all already so well-known that it'll be harder for them to change their image than it will be for a newcomer to arrive on the scene and claim the "presidential" mantle.
Full results here.