MN: PPP polls show Pawlenty needs to pull voters from Romney in 2012 bid

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by Patrick Caldwell 2 Comments

While no major contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination has officially announced a campaign yet — and, thus, any 2012 polling should be taken with a grain of salt — Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted early surveys on the potential 2012 candidates. The top line numbers should be largely disregarded; of course Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin will lead many of the early polls since they have have a higher public profile than someone such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who could still run a competitive campaign when the time comes.

But PPP’s numbers do reveal which candidates are competing for the same supporters. Unsurprisingly, PPP’s results show a correlation between support between Romney and Tim Pawlenty. They write:

Tim Pawlenty hurts Mitt Romney. The three states where Pawlenty had his highest levels of support were also the three where Romney had his lowest level of support. In Minnesota where Pawlenty got 19% Romney was at just 11%, in Wisconsin where Pawlenty got 8% Romney only got 12%, and in Illinois where Pawlenty got 8% Romney also got only 11%.

These results backup an argument TAI made in an article on Monday explaining why Pawlenty might want to concentrate on the New Hampshire primary rather than the Iowa Caucuses, even though Iowa may seem like a more logical route based on geographical proximity:

In recent years, social conservatives have played a growing role in Iowa’s Republican Party, with the faction scoring a major win when all three Supreme Court justices on the ballot this year were voted out of office after their votes instituting same-sex marriage. These voters are much more likely to back candidates such as Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee who have established their bona fides with social conservatives.

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Pawlenty will likely draw support from similar elements of the party as Romney, so these early polls indicate that once Pawlenty raises his name recognition on the campaign trail, he could establish himself as the alternative moderate Republican in the race and pull voters away from Romney. Likely Pawlenty’s most viable route toward gaining his party’s nomination will be through a strong New Hampshire showing in February 2012, using that win as a springboard for future primary victories.

One of the key points missed in PPP’s treatment of polls is that all states’ votes do not matter equally. By the time Minnesota Republicans have the opportunity to engage in the nomination cycle, it is highly likely that the competition will be over, with any challenging candidates having already conceded. Even if the 2012 nomination drags out for an unusually long time period — as happened for Democrats in 2008 — the field will be reduced to only two or three remaining candidates.

How you perform among your subset of direct competitors is almost equally important to your overall support during those first few states. If current trends in the party hold steady, the GOP nomination process is likely to split into two competing camps: tea party candidates vs. traditional, so-called ‘establishment’ Republicans. Romney and Pawlenty clearly fall into this latter category.

During Iowa and New Hampshire, Pawlenty, Romney, Thune and other traditional candidates will jockey to finish ahead of one another. They would all love to finish ahead of a tea party-backed candidate like Sarah Palin, but, initially, they only need to push their direct competitors out of the race. If someone like Pawlenty can outperform in New Hampshire, that will likely create a wave of momentum clearing the path of other ‘establishment’ candidates.

At that point, Pawlenty or Romney would likely draw the support of the other candidates’ backers, and then it will be a race in the final primaries to see which segment of the party base has a more influential voice. The exact same dynamic will likely occur on the tea party side of the base as well.

PPP’s early numbers are encouraging for Pawlenty’s hopes of successfully following this path. He currently polls close with Romney in the Midwestern states that are most likely to be familiar with Minnesota’s governor. That indicates a weakness in Romney’s positioning as the establishment candidate, as he likely has a higher profile through his reputation as a national figure in all of those states, sans Minnesota. When Pawlenty begins campaigning full-time in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states, it appears he has an opportunity to draw supporters away from Romney once they become familiar with his candidacy.

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