Rick Perry Holds Commanding Lead In GOP Race, But Obama Still Competitive In General Election

Is the GOP race really down to just two men at this point?

With his first Presidential debate less than 36 hours away, Texas Governor Rick Perry holds a commanding lead in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll:

Heading into the post-Labor Day sprint and the NBC News/Politico-sponsored debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday, Perry is the first choice among 38 percent of GOP voters — followed by Romney at 23 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 9 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 8 percent.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain are tied with 5 percent of GOP voters each, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gets 3 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman gets 2 percent.

These results are backed up by a new Politico/Battleground Poll:

Mirroring other national polls, Texas Gov. Rick Perry moved to the front of the Republican class, emerging as the first choice for 36 percent of voters only three weeks into his campaign.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second with 17 percent, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at 10 percent, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at 10 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) at 5 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 5 percent. Businessman Herman Cain and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman took 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

This weekend also so the release of a Fox News poll of the GOP race that showing Perry garnering the support of 26% of those surveyed, with Romney at 18%, and every other candidate in single digits.

Looking at the trends, it easy to see why Ed Rollins said that the GOP race is now a race between Romney and Perry:

Now, it would be easy to look at this chart and conclude that the GOP race is over and that we’re looking at a Romney-Perry slug fest, possibly a  protracted one, once the voting starts in February (or January, that hasn’t been resolved yet). That may be how things turn out, and it seems unlikely at the moment that any of the other six announced candidates have any realistic chance of becoming competitive any time soon. However, it is worth keeping in mind where we were at this time four years ago:

The guy who ended up winning the 2008 nomination was stuck in third place at this point in 2007, behind “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who was serving as the great hope of the conservative wing of the GOP. There was no sign of the Mike Huckabee surge that would materialize in December of that year, and nobody would’ve believed you if they told you that Rudy Giuliani would spend $50,000,000 and only win a single convention delegate, or that Fred Thompson, with all his Hollywood experience, would prove to be so wooden on the campaign trail. The race had yet to fully materialize at this point in 2007, and while it seems much less likely this time, it is still possible that the eventual nominee is neither of the two people at the top of the charts right now.

Whoever the nominee is, though, and despite all of the problems he’s having due to the state of the economy and declining job approval numbers, President Obama is still holding his own against his probably Republican opponents:

If there’s a silver lining for Obama, it’s that a combined 70 percent of respondents still find him likeable (though nearly six in 10 say they disapprove of many of his policies). And 50 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which Hart says is significant because it suggests that the public doesn’t think that everything Obama touches can be viewed negatively.

What’s more, in a hypothetical general election contest, Obama leads Texas Gov. Rick Perry by five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. And he leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by one, 46 percent to 45 percent, though that margin is down five points since June.

But for the first time in the poll, more say they’d probably vote for a generic Republican candidate (44 percent) than say they’d probably vote for Obama (40 percent).

“Obama is no longer the favorite to win re-election,” Hart said, explaining that a head-to-head score will usually conform to the generic one, especially when so many believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

This may be true, but it’s also clear that the President maintains a core level of support that could be enough to give him a second term depending on how the election turns out, and how the GOP nominee is. Which is why Larry Sabato is largely correct when he says that the 2012 race is likely to come down to a handful of toss up states:

Barring a Carter-like collapse, President Obama is assured of 175 electoral votes from 12 deep-blue states and the District of Columbia: California (55 electoral votes), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington state (12) and Washington, D.C. (3). Three more states are not quite as certain, but still likely Democratic: Maine (4), Minnesota (10) and Oregon (7). Even though Minnesota is competitive enough to vote Republican under the right set of conditions, it is the state with the longest Democratic presidential streak, dating to 1976.

Four other states usually vote Democratic for president, but they’re hardly a sure thing: Michigan (16), New Mexico (5), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). A low Hispanic vote in 2012 could flip New Mexico, as Al Gore carried it by only 366 votes in 2000 and a dedicated effort by George W. Bush flipped it in 2004. In Michigan, economic problems might cause voters to cool on Democrats. Wisconsin, narrowly Democratic in 2000 and 2004, is a cauldron of unpredictable countertrends. And although Pennsylvania has frustrated all GOP attempts to win it over since 1988, recent polls have shown weakness for Mr. Obama there. These 51 electoral votes will be GOP targets if conditions in the fall of 2012 approximate today’s.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have their own firewall. Almost any sentient GOP nominee will carry Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Utah (6), West Virginia (5) and Wyoming (3). These 18 states have 105 electoral votes.


Republicans therefore are a lock or lead in 24 states for 206 electoral votes, and Democrats have or lead in 19 states for 247 electoral votes. That’s why seven super-swing states with 85 electors will determine which party gets to the magic number of 270 electoral votes: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).

President Obama won all these states in 2008, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that many of them will be up for grabs in 2012. Florida, Virginia, and Ohio have all gone strongly Republican in elections since 2008, and Republicans have pulled off victories in statewide races in Nevada and New Hampshire. Of more concern for Obama, though, should be states like Pennsylvania, where his job approval has fallen precipitously over the past several months (see here and here). And Wisconsin seems to be a state where Republicans are far more competitive statewide than they have been in the past. Absent some disaster for Obama that pushes him into Carter/Mondale/McGovern blowout territory, this election is likely to be far closer than 2008 was, and to the extent people are voting their pocketbooks, the President could find himself in trouble when it comes time to count the Electoral College votes.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Sam Stone says:

    No one want to answer a poll against Obama for fear of being called a racist, hostage taker, terrorist, lynch mob etc etc.

    Just as you can’t believe a pathological liar like Obama, you can’t trust the polls.

    Polls are for strippers!

  2. Boyd says:

    The biggest danger that Obama will face in November 2012 is that many of his die-hard supporters may just stay home on election day. Many of them still support him strongly, but he hasn’t given them a reason to overcome inertia and go to their polling place to vote for him. He’s got plenty of time to build enthusiasm, but I think that’s the biggest obstacle he faces for reelection.

  3. Sam Stone says:

    So Boyd, his failures in so many aspects are not a consideration for his die hard supporters?
    THAT is frightening!

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Boyd’s right — not just because he’s sane and Sam is. . . I support Obama, but it’s not the I’ll-crawl-over-broken-glass vote it was in 2008. This would be more the Republicans-are-still-worse kind of vote. Romney or Huntsman would take some of the edge off my ardor. Perry will definitely motivate me to vote Democrat.

  5. Boyd says:

    @Sam Stone: That’s why, or at least one reason why, they’re die-hard supporters.

  6. Racehorse says:

    Obama will find it next to impossible to carry any southern states. Florida and Virginia will be close, but go Republican. Michigan, Penn, and Ohio will be Republican. Gov. Christie get New Jersey into the Republican list. Don’t count California as a walk in for Democrats, unless Republicans write it off. There is a lot of dissatisfaction in California with the economy, government over regulating, the school system, radical measures coming out of the governor’s office and legislature (insane requirement that gay “history” be taught in an already failing public school system), weird, intrusive, big brother actions such as the Happy Meal ban, and high taxes (highest gas tax in nation), excessive fees, licenses, permits etc. Businesses and families are already voting – with their feet.

  7. Sam Stone says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Leave it to the Obama supporters to go right into the name calling phase!

    Sick puke!

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    Just as you can’t believe a pathological liar like Obama, you can’t trust the polls.

    followed by

    Leave it to the Obama supporters to go right into the name calling phase!

    It’s been awhile since we had a batshit commentor. Zels, is that you again?

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    Ahh,.. and from another thread:

    What a total ass you are samwide. A typical asshole who has nothing but ad hominum attacks is a loser form the start.

    So does that make you an Obama supporter Sam Stone?

  10. Boyd says:

    @Neil Hudelson: There are still a significant number of crazy commenters here, Neil. You just happen to agree with many of them. 🙂

  11. Sam Stone says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    If you bothered to read it all, my comment was in REPLY to one.
    You won’t find a comment form me that goes into ad hominum unless it is in response ot one!

  12. Fiona says:

    Obama’s fate hinges on the economy, which, if it continues to get worse (and I think it will) will likely bring him down with it.

    I voted for Obama the last go round and will likely vote for him again although I’m disappointed by his inability to stand up to Republican posturing. But it will be more of a hold-my-nose vote than a positive vote because almost all of the Republican candidates are horrible.

  13. ponce says:

    Almost any sentient GOP nominee will carry…

    It’s not surprising that the Republicans’ “firewall” states are the states that are the most dependent on welfare handouts from “liberal” states to surive:


  14. Sam Stone says:


    And that means what in the context of this story?

  15. Scott F. says:

    Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia… Expect to hear those names a lot in the coming year from the Democrats. All three will reach the age of 80 during the next President’s term.

    Ginsburg, Kennedy and Scalia… those three words will be all that is needed to inspire excellent Democratic turn-out.

  16. ponce says:

    And that means what in the context of this story?

    The Republican nomination will go to the candidate who whines the loudest about government spending while at the same time mooching as much money as possible from the Blue States because the Republican Party has become the home of self-loathing hypocrites?

  17. Neil Hudelson says:


    I’m not sure how you know who I do/don’t agree with. For the most part I don’t comment substantially on articles, unless I have personal experience with the subject at hand.

    Of course by “crazy” you probably meant idealogically. By “crazy” I meant “nonsensical.” Whatever Sam Stone’s policy positions are, its hard to tell as he likes to just throw out ad hominem attacks on a variety of elected officials and commentors. Notice I didn’t call him crazy for his ideas (I don’t really know what those are).

    Just like I never call ponce or Wayne crazy (to name two that are on opposite sides of the political spectrum) as while I may not always agree with them, their thoughts are at least coherent.

  18. Boyd says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I think you left your sense of humor in the other room. I’ll refrain from joking around with you until you have a chance to go retrieve it.

  19. David says:

    Scott, do you think the average voter even knows who the people are you just named?

  20. Neil Hudelson says:


    Fair enough. I woke up with a 4 am phone call from work–never a good sign that the day is going to be a fun one. My apologies for being testy with you :-).

  21. Boyd says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Great! You found it! 🙂

    Those days happen to all of us from time to time, so no worries.

  22. Scott F. says:


    The average voter will vote based on their personal economic situation and who they blame for it. Up the thread, however, the discussion is on whether the die-hard Democratic base will turn out to vote. For these voters, the make-up of the SCOTUS matters greatly – they not only know who these people are, but they know they are nearing retirement.

  23. john personna says:

    Perry will definitely motivate me to vote Democrat.


    It is possible that in nomination, the GOP will over-play its hand.

    VP Palin? We can only dream.

  24. Boyd says:

    @Scott F.: Since I’m the one that introduced the “die-hard” term to the discussion, I see I need to clarify to whom I was referring.

    First, note that I didn’t mention “die-hard Democratic base” as you did. I said “[Obama’s] die-hard supporters,” and that’s a separate group entirely, at least in my mind. The people I had in mind were those who joined the electoral process in 2008 because they were excited about the possibility of Barack Obama becoming President, but have spotty (at best) records in voting before and since.

    The point I was trying to bring out was that there were a lot of people who only voted in 2008 because Obama was running. Many of those folks, no longer excited by Barack Obama, won’t bother going to the polls in November 2012.

  25. ponce says:

    VP Palin? We can only dream.

    Any permutation of the current Republican candidates is equally awful.

    i.e. Romney/Bachmann!

  26. An Interested Party says:

    You just happen to agree with many of them.

    As if you don’t agree with a number of other crazy commenters? :-p

  27. Boyd says:

    @An Interested Party:

    As if you don’t agree with a number of other crazy commenters? :-p

    Hmm…generally speaking, no, I don’t think I do agree with many of the crazies here from any side, be it liberal, conservative or libertarian, beyond a few small facts that they somehow acknowledge.

    That being said, there are plenty of crazies that show up around here off and on, true. Me, for example. I just have my own special brand, and I keep it hidden well. Most of the time. 🙂

  28. anjin-san says:

    The biggest danger that Obama will face in November 2012 is that many of his die-hard supporters may just stay home on election day.

    Not seeing it. Obama may not energize the base, but he does not have to. The far right will do it for him.

  29. Boyd says:

    @anjin-san: I think we have two different sorts of people in mind, anjin. You seem to be talking about the Democratic base. I’m talking about the people who made the difference over and above the base, the people who generally agree with Democrats, but don’t usually bother to vote. Those folks came out in droves in 2008, which made the difference. These are the ones who, I believe, are the ones that Obama is losing, not to Republicans, but to inertia.