Independent pollster and political analyst Scott Rasmussen tells Newsmax that Wednesday night’s GOP debate was “rockier” than expected for leading candidate Rick Perry, and says his stance on the Social Security issue could be the “chink in the armor” of his campaign.
But Rasmussen asserts that the Texas governor now has all the “excitement and charisma” in the Republican race and could prove difficult to beat, while leading challenger Mitt Romney is an “awkward position.”
And Rasmussen believes that President Obama would be the underdog in a head-to-head race against any of the leading GOP candidates.
Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports and co-founder of the sports network ESPN. He has been an independent public opinion pollster for over a decade, and most major news organizations cite his reports.
He is also the co-author of “Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System.”
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Rasmussen gives his assessment of Perry’s performance in the debate.
“It was a little rockier than he might have liked. Overall, Rick Perry came in with very high expectations because he’s the front-runner, and as he said at one point during the debate he felt like a piñata because everyone was gunning for him. But he did fairly well overall.”
But when asked whether Perry is the only viable candidate now, Rasmussen responds: “No. Rick Perry is in the very beginning of the effort to determine if he is even the front-runner.
“We polled in Iowa a week ago and found that only one in four Iowa caucus voters have made up their mind and are certain about who they are going to vote for. This is a very fluid field.
“There are four debates coming up in the next several weeks, and if Rick Perry does well in those four debates he may emerge as the front-runner. And if he does that he will be very difficult to beat.
“On the other hand, it’s quite possible we’ll see the race tighten a bit.”
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During the debate, Perry stuck by his earlier statement that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” and Romney said it’s wrong to call Social Security a failure.
Rasmussen observes: “That whole discussion showed a little bit how out of touch almost all the candidates are with the voters on the issue of Social Security.
“We polled a year ago and found that just 27 percent think that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, 36 percent said it is not, and a 37 percent said they didn’t know.
“What Americans do know is there are concerns about Social Security, concerns about its financing. But most see it as a program that has reduced poverty among the elderly, and they want to see something that will replace it that can provide that same kind of assurance.
“Rick Perry is going to have to find a way to turn the anger he feels about the system into a positive solution. The other candidates are going to have to do the same. Right now it is a potential chink in the armor of Rick Perry.”
Asked whether Romney might count on the votes of moderates to overtake Perry, Rasmussen tells Newsmax: “Mitt Romney is in an awkward position right now. He’s generally well-liked. People have respect for his private sector experience. But Republican voters aren’t sold on him as the nominee. Rick Perry is the new kid in town. He’s got all the excitement and all the charisma.
“Mitt Romney’s best path to the nomination is to wait a little bit and see if Rick Perry falters. If he does, Romney is there to pick up the pieces. If he doesn’t, Romney is going to have to get even more aggressive, and it won’t be the votes of the moderates that put Romney over the top. The Republican Party is dominated by conservatives and a large share of conservatives don’t even consider themselves Republicans.
“Republicans are going to have to reach out to those other conservatives if they want to win the White House.”
An NBC News poll found that 50 percent of respondents believe Ron Paul won the debate, with Romney a distant second at 17 percent. But Rasmussen doesn’t believe Paul is the sleeper in the campaign.
“Ron Paul draws a tremendously passionate base of support,” he says. “But among Republicans only 43 percent have a favorable opinion, 45 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
“The thing about Ron Paul that people ignore and tend to forget is that his appeal is not just to the right wing that wants to cut back on all kinds of spending, but also to the anti-war left.
“It’s going to be very difficult for Ron Paul to translate that into the Republican nomination.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann was not a major factor during much of the debate “but had a stronger finish,” according to Rasmussen. “If Rick Perry maintains his lead, it’s going to be hard for her to gain traction. If the race tightens, she will have a better opportunity to present her views.”
Other debate participants Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum remain “relevant in terms of influencing the discussion, perhaps, but it’s very difficult to see any credible path for them to the nomination,” Rasmussen says.
With President Obama set to deliver a major speech on the economy and jobs Thursday night, Rasmussen notes: “Right now people are feeling that their own personal finances are in worse shape than they were the day President Obama took office. That’s a problem.
“And on the jobs front, 24 percent of workers say their firms are still laying people off. If those realities don’t turn around, a speech won’t make any difference.”
As to who would win a race between Obama and Perry right now, Rasmussen discloses: “Our latest polling shows Perry 44 percent, Obama 41 percent.”
He adds: “All polling that we have with President Obama against any of the Republican candidates shows the president getting anywhere from 39 to 46 percent of the vote. Those numbers are not good for the president.
“You have to say, against any Republican today or against any of the leading Republicans today, the president would be an underdog for re-election — but nowhere near the automatic defeat that some Republicans are expecting.”
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