The GOP presidential nominee probably will be someone who’s not even in the mix yet, pollster Scott Rasmussen told NewsmaxTV in an exclusive interview.
The race is so wide open and the enthusiasm for all the declared candidates is so weak that a dark horse could come from nowhere and clinch the nomination at the wire, he said.
And the chances of the Republicans actually taking the White House will depend almost entirely on the economy, Rasmussen predicted. If it’s doing well by fall 2012, President Barack Obama will win a second term; if it’s into a double-dip recession, the GOP will get in easily, and if it’s still bumping along like it is now, it will be a tight race.
Rasmussen was speaking as the political fall-out from the withdrawals of Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump were reshaping the Republican run. He says that latest polls show that Huckabee, Trump and Sarah Palin between them are the first choices of 43 percent of GOP voters — although two are definitely out and Palin probably won’t run either.
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After Trump’s official announcement that he was not going to run for president, Rasmussen added: "The news that Donald Trump is not running for resident is not really a surprise and will have little impact on the wide open field seeking the GOP nomination. It’s worth noting that an earlier poll asked people about the race if Huckabee, Trump, and Palin didn’t run. In that race, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie came out on top. For the moment, Romney is a vulnerable frontrunner and many Republican voters are looking elsewhere."
Rasmussen categorized Romney, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty as the “establishment-approved candidates” but said that could be a disadvantage. “Voters are unhappy with the Republican Party leadership in Washington so look for something different," he said. “They are looking for someone who will change the game, not just play it a little differently."
He said that with the election still nearly 18 months away, there is plenty of time for a new name to emerge, saying he expected perhaps a state governor would announce a run around Thanksgiving or even Christmas and stir up the race. “The process itself is so open at the moment that I’m not at all confident that the ultimate nominee is there,” said Rasmussen.
Of the current candidates, Rasmussen said Newt Gingrich just about ruled himself out with his comments this week supporting parts of the President’s health care plan that call for the mandatory purchase of insurance. “He’s not looking like a team player. I don’t quite know what Speaker Gingrich was doing with this one,” he said.
Rasmussen said the killing of Osama bin Laden gave President Obama a small bump in the polls, and the reason it wasn’t larger is because voters are focusing almost entirely on the economy. “Only 6 percent of voters nationwide say national security issues are number one right now. This was a single decision on a national security matter. The president right now is getting good reviews for his handling of national security but only 34 percent think he’s doing a good job on the economy.”
And the economywill decide the election, he predicted. “If the economy is really humming along and jobs are being created and people are feeling good about their own finances, this president will be hard to defeat.
“If the economy goes into a double-dip recession it will be hard for a Republican to lose and if we muddle along like we are today, it’s going to be a close election. Things like the housing market and personal financial concerns are likely to drive the debate.”
But he said whoever the eventual GOP candidate is, the party faithful will rally round to defeat Obama. “Republicans will not have a passion problem,” he predicted. “Barack Obama will supply the passion for Republicans just like George Bush supplied passion for the Democrats the last time around.”
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