Last year Republicans scuttled their chances at taking back the US Senate by nominating far right unelectable candidates like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Ken Buck in Colorado. Now GOP voters seem to have learned their lesson: 56% say it's most important to them to have a Presidential candidate who has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama, compared to only 31% who think it's more important to have someone who's conservative on every issue. That finding is an indication that the Tea Party's influence within the Republican Party may be diminished. That's bad news for Democrats...and good news for Mitt Romney.
Romney leads our newest poll with 22% to 17% for Herman Cain, 15% for Sarah Palin, 9% for Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty, 8% for Michele Bachmann, 7% for Ron Paul, and 1% for Jon Huntsman.
Romney's strength is with those voters for whom electability is the paramount concern. He gets 27% with them to 14% each for Cain and Palin and 12% for Pawlenty. With GOP partisans more concerned about ideology Romney is third at 16%, behind Cain's 22% and Palin's 18%.
It's interesting that Cain has surpassed Palin as the candidate of choice for the 'I'd rather lose than sacrifice' crowd. Palin continues to have the highest favorability of the potential Republican candidates at 62%, putting her well ahead of Romney's 55%, Pawlenty's 44%, Cain's 40%, and Gingrich's 36%. But there just continues to be a disconnect between GOP voters liking Palin and thinking she would be a good President or Presidential candidate. Her popularity with the base is undeniable...but so is the fact that she would have an exceptionally difficult path to the nomination even if she did decide to make the race.
If Palin doesn't run Romney's lead expands. He gets 27% to 20% for Cain, 13% for Bachmann, 12% for Gingrich, 10% for Pawlenty, 6% for Paul, and 3% for Huntsman. One piece of conventional wisdom that is true: the biggest beneficiary of Palin not running would be Bachmann. She gets 32% of the Palin supporters to 17% for Gingrich, 14% for Cain, and 13% for Romney.
We also tested a sort of GOP dream field, using the Republican figures who had the best favorability numbers on our recent South Carolina and Iowa polls. Those numbers suggest that the Republican on the sidelines who could make the biggest impact if he jumped in is Chris Christie. He would get 18% to 17% for Romney, 13% for Palin, 11% for Jeb Bush and Rudy Giuliani, 8% for Michele Bachmann, and 6% for Paul Ryan and Tim Pawlenty. I think those numbers are actually a pretty good sign for Romney- he really doesn't lose that much of his support even with those other big names in the race. But it does make it clear Christie could enter late and still be very formidable.
Full results here