A stunning new poll conducted by Newsmax/Zogby reveals that Massachusetts' new Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown could defeat President Barack Obama in a presidential election.
The Newsmax/Zogby poll released Tuesday found that the pair would be statistically deadlocked if the presidential election took place today.
The poll indicates surprisingly weak support for the president among independent voters, who favor the tyro Brown by 48.6 percent to 36 percent in a hypothetical matchup against Obama.
Mark McKinnon, the respected political strategist who created former President George W. Bush's successful television ad campaigns in 2000 and 2004, told Newsmax that the survey results should trigger alarms for Team Obama.
"The real problem for Obama is that he has lost the middle, and losing the middle means losing independents," McKinnon said. "And it is independents that are responsible for swinging elections one way or the other in this country. So if you lose independents, you're going to lose the presidency."
The poll asked likely voters: "If the election for president of the United States were held today and the only candidates were Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Scott Brown, for whom would you vote?"
Based on the 4,163 responses, Obama leads Brown by 46.5 percent to 44.6 percent. That amounts to a statistical tie because the Zogby survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.
The survey's real message is that President Obama appears politically vulnerable, Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Newsmax.
"I’ve seen other candidates essentially tie Obama in other surveys, including Mike Huckabee," Sabato said. "It’s really more about Obama’s weakness as he begins his second year, than any Republican’s strength."
Obama "has developed real problems with independents," Sabato said, adding that that could change, if the economy strengthens considerably by 2012.
Some pundits are calling for the administration to undertake a mid-course correction and tack to the political center to regain momentum.
The day after the stunning Bay State election, the president appeared to signal a willingness to pare down his ambitious transformation of the U.S. healthcare system. His aides backtracked from that notion on the Sunday talk programs, however, insisting that healthcare reform remains very much on the table, despite the nation's ailing economy and high unemployment.
John Zogby, the founder and chairman of Zogby International, told Newsmax: "Clearly, this result is more a sign of trouble for Obama than it is good news for Brown. Over the first few months of his presidency, there was substantial support among independents, which has now moved to a serious deficit."
Independents may be reacting to heavy federal spending that has yet to dent the high unemployment rate, Zogby said.
Interestingly, press reports indicate that President Obama will call for a freeze on some domestic spending in his State of the Union address set for Wednesday.
The Newsmax/Zogby poll does show some political silver linings for Obama. Obama's rich-vs.-poor strategy seems to be paying off with lower-income voters. Voters with incomes under $50,000 back Obama 54 percent to 37 percent for Brown.
To win back middle-class voters and independents, Obama will have to show he is fighting for fiscal discipline, Zogby argued.
"Obama is going to have to show to them that their tax dollars haven't been wasted," he said. "Brown received support after what was perceived to be a national victory, which means now he's on the national political radar.
"Someone else I recall was once a state senator and was launched to national prominence through a U.S. Senate election. Now we'll see if history repeats itself. You never know," Zogby said.
Brown has been the focus of national attention since his surprising upset last week of Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts race, which gave Republicans the 41st vote they need to filibuster measures in the Senate.
New York City political analyst Andy Ostroy recently blogged: "With his law degree, his stint in the Massachusetts State Senate, and in what could now be an incredibly influential role in the U.S. Senate, Brown could grow into quite the formidable opponent to Obama in 2012. Honestly, with the sheer lack of sexiness and excitement in the GOP right now, if I were the party leaders I'd have started grooming this guy for a presidential run yesterday."
Such unbridled enthusiasm, however, overlooks the long odds that Brown would face in a national GOP primary.
Richard Viguerie, a stalwart conservative marketing guru, told Newsmax: "While Senator-elect Scott Brown appears to have a very bright future in the Republican Party, it's silly season to think of him as a presidential candidate in 2012.
"We know very little about Brown," Viguerie said. "And some of his positions that may have been helpful in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race would work against him in a Republican nomination battle — such as his support for abortion rights and his record in the state legislature of voting for liberal legislation."
Sabato concurred, saying: "I think it’s fair to say Scott Brown is the flavor of the month. He’s had a very positive introduction to the American public with almost no critical scrutiny. That won’t be the case in a GOP primary or a general election.
"Brown’s positions on abortion and gay rights are quite liberal. It’s highly unlikely the national GOP would actually nominate him for president. Most Republicans are unaware of those positions, or they were willing to overlook them because it was Massachusetts," he said.
Sabato said he expects new contenders for the GOP nomination to emerge from November's midterm elections.
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