As President Obama launches his re-election with his State of the Union speech, a reorganized White House staff and new Chicago campaign headquarters, Republicans are just beginning their nomination process with no clear frontrunner – a first in recent history. As the wide-open Republican race begins, it’s not clear what will be the best type of candidate to oppose a revived Obama – someone from the populist or more establishment wing of the party.
Two recent polls show that the four candidates with best name identification are Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Fox News is well represented with regular commentators: Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich. Mike Huckabee has high name recognition and the highest favorability whereas Sarah Palin is the best-known, but with a more negative image. But none of them, including Mitt Romney, get more than a fifth of the Republican vote.
In the same January poll, Obama is beating the top candidates by more than 10 points, so the national battle will be for the center, and the Republican challenge is to find a candidate after a national primary battle that will still be seen favorably by an independent voter.
A surprise name making the top rank is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who records 8 percent in the Washington Post/ABC poll. Christie has received a lot of early attention (especially on the Internet and non-traditional media) taking on the teachers union and being aggressive on cutting the New Jersey state budget. Republican voters may be looking for some fiery populism, but packaged in governing credentials.
The key to the race will be bringing together the party’s establishment wing and its very strong populist wing while avoiding a candidate with the inexperience or vulnerabilities of some of the November Tea Party candidates.
See Gallup poll: Within GOP, Huckabee Liked, Palin Best-Known