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Presidential Race Gets Tighter

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The best thing Democrats have going for them in this 2012 election cycle is the deep division among Republicans over who should be their presidential nominee.

Less than 60 days before the Iowa caucuses, the GOP is no closer to coalescing around a front-runner to take on President Obama than it was a year ago. A party that can't agree on who stands the best chance of winning back the White House, looks weak, indecisive and rife with internal ideological divisions that can deplete its energy, turnout and fundraising.

Despite Obama's overwhelming failure to deal with a weak, jobless economy and unprecedented deficits and debt, recent poll numbers show he may give the GOP a much tougher fight than most party leaders are willing to acknowledge right now.

The Gallup Poll reported Thursday that he is essentially tied with a generic Republican candidate when registered voters are asked whom "they are more likely to vote for in the presidential election next year."

Gallup said that voters were split down the middle, with 42 percent choosing Obama and 43 percent for the Republican candidate.

"This marks a change from October and September, when the Republican candidate was ahead, and underscores the potential for a close presidential race in the year ahead," Gallup said.

Throughout much of this year, Obama's support has been leaking like a sieve, with his job approval polls falling into the low 40s and the high 30s, according to Gallup's daily tracking polls. Lately, though, his numbers have been edging up a few digits to as high as 44 percent, while his disapproval score has dropped from 50 percent to less than 48 percent this week.

The economy remains weak. Unemployment is still at 9 percent (16 percent if Americans forced to take part-time work or have stopped looking for jobs are included). The budget deficit is still unprecedented at around $1.3 trillion or more. And forecasters say these numbers are not going to change significantly this year or next.

It's not entirely clear what is affecting the poll numbers beyond the Democrats' base rallying around Obama as the election year draws near. It may also be the result of the president shifting into an aggressive campaign mode, firing away at the Republicans with both guns blazing, that has excited his base and rekindled their support.

But the bitter Republican primary battle, fought out over an interminable number of televised debates, with no clear leading candidate in sight, may be raising the Democrats' hopes.

There is insider talk among some Democratic strategists about the possibility that GOP's dominant conservative majority may not be strongly united behind their nominee if it is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. So far, he has failed to fully rally tea party conservatives behind his candidacy.

This has been a messy election cycle for Republicans with a large field of contenders, some of whom suffer from debilitating weaknesses, scandals or self-inflicted wounds.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry came roaring into the race with much promise and immediately soared in the party's polls, only to see his candidacy fall apart in a series of pathetic debate performances.

Wednesday night's CNBC debate in Rochester, Mich. probably ended his candidacy, after he couldn't remember one of three departments he said he would abolish.

Business executive Herman Cain suddenly became the conservative choice when Perry collapsed, only to be hit by a battery of sexual harassment allegations from at least five women. Cain has flatly denied all charges, but he says there will probably be more. It's hard to see him going the distance but thus far his supporters have largely stuck with him.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the party's most energetic idea man, saw his candidacy plunge into single digits not long after he entered the race, losing virtually his entire campaign staff after he and his wife foolishly took a week's vacation cruise just as his campaign was gearing up.

He's made a bit of a comeback, largely on the basis of his intellectual and political prowess in the debates that has conservatives giving him a second look.

Then there's Romney who has made a good impression throughout all of the debates, skillfully delivering his plans to rebuild the economy and drive down unemployment. He has, however, been unable to expand his support beyond 25 percent or so in most polls and was tied with Cain last week at 21 percent each.

But with the rest of the pack well behind them, Romney is still the odds on choice to win his party's nod, according to a new Gallup poll this week.

When Republicans and GOP-leaners were asked, regardless of which candidate they supported, who they thought would win the party's nomination, 45 percent said Romney. Cain was a distant second at 13 percent.

Notably, nearly 40 percent of Cain supporters predicted Romney would be chosen as the party's standardbearer, and 47 percent of tea party supporters said the same.

It is no secret that the Obama campaign fears Romney more than any other candidate because of his appeal to independent, swing voters who will decide the outcome of the 2012 election.

President Obama's fate will be decided in a handful of swing states that he won in 2008 and must hold again if he is to win a second term.

But the Quinnipiac Poll Thursday said that a majority of the voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida do not like the job he's doing and most do not believe he should be reelected.

In Pennsylvania, for example, voters disapprove of his job performance by 52-44 percent, and by a margin of 50 to 46 percent do not think he deserves reelection. Stay tuned.

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