President Barack Obama’s re-election advisers say Republicans are likely to face a drawn-out primary contest and that their analysis of public polls shows Mitt Romney would be a tougher general-election opponent than Newt Gingrich.
David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, and campaign manager Jim Messina highlighted in a briefing for reporters what they said was the president’s 7-percentage-point advantage over Gingrich in aggregated national polls, compared with a 2-point margin over Romney.
While declining to say who they’d rather run against, both indicated that a contentious contest between the former speaker of the House and the former Massachusetts governor that push the two candidates toward appealing to the most conservative primary voters would make the eventual Republican nominee easier to run against.
“They’re being tugged to the right every day,” David Axelrod, a campaign adviser, told reporters at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. “They’re mortgaging themselves for the general by tacking as far as they are.”
The 2012 election campaign will take place against the backdrop of an economy still struggling to emerge from the worst recession in seven decades. While employers added 120,000 jobs to their payrolls last month and unemployment fell to 8.6 percent, the jobless rate will average 8.7 percent in 2012, according to the median forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg News from Dec. 2-8. Obama’s approval rating in Gallup’s daily tracking poll has been hovering at about 45 percent since late May.
No ‘Slam Dunk’
In an address to fundraisers today in Washington, Obama said he will have to “fight” to win re-election.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” Obama said.
Axelrod argued that voters will take into account the magnitude and origins of the recession and Obama’s latest proposals to spur economic growth. “This is not an ordinary year and you can’t apply ordinary models,” he said.
Neither Axelrod nor Messina would predict whether Gingrich or Romney would emerge at the Republican presidential nominee. They cited the many lead changes in the early campaign as other candidates, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain, have risen to front-runner status only to drop as they made stumbles while campaigning or in debates.
“Whether it’s Romney or Gingrich or if someone else were to surprise us again, the debate is going to be largely the same because the economic theory on their side is largely the same,” Axelrod said.
Republicans will head to the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, in the first contest of the campaign. Seven days later, New Hampshire will hold its primary.
Axelrod and Messina argued that Republican contest is different from the extended primary battle that Obama faced in 2008 with Hillary Clinton. The Democratic race made Obama a tougher candidate and allowed voters to “kick the tires” on someone who was not well known, Axelrod said.
Messina said Obama can reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory under several scenarios. If Obama wins all the Democratic-leaning states that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry took in his unsuccessful 2004 campaign, plus Florida, he will capture 275 votes. He can also win on a “West Path,” by starting with the Kerry baseline, losing Florida and then winning Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Iowa to capture 272.
The “South Path” has him losing Ohio and Florida, while winning North Carolina and Virginia, giving the president 274 votes. On the “Midwest Path,” Obama can also be re-elected if he loses Florida while winning Ohio and Iowa, which would give him 270 votes.
In the eight states where the Obama advisers say the general election will be fought, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Obama is leading against Gingrich in six and is tied in Arizona and down one point in Ohio, according to Messina. Romney is leading in two states, New Hampshire and Ohio, and is tied in North Carolina, said Messina, relying on public polling.
Starting in the New Year, the Obama campaign will deploy hundreds of workers to state offices. Messina said they will have an advantage in organization that will carry them into the general election.
“You have infrastructure to turn out voters,” he said.
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