March 4, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

What Could Be Next in the Race for President?

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Former Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t compete in Illinois and finished fourth there after a weak third in Ohio. He’s really no longer a factor for the GOP nomination.

It is no surprise that evangelical conservatives don’t believe him, but it’s noteworthy that Romney’s own supporters also don’t believe him.

That’s why his supporters are still supporting him after months, even years, of Romney trying to position himself to the right. Romney supporters figure that all of his conservative rhetoric on social issues and immigration is just a play for conservative voters in the primary, so they ignore it and figure he’ll be a mainstream, business conservative as the GOP nominee. And that suits them just fine.

The next big event I’m watching for isn’t the next primary but the next NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Since the late February/early March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll came out showing the “right track” poll number continuing to grow and the president’s job approval hitting 50 percent, three other surveys — ABC News/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times and Fox News — have come out showing a very different trend.

All three were conducted only a week or so after the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

In all three, President Barack Obama’s numbers were softening, not strengthening, and he looked to be in worse shape for the general election.

If the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll confirms what the other three showed, it’s obviously terrible news for the White House.

Most observers have assumed that a growing economy would improve the president’s re-election prospects (dramatically if the improvement in unemployment and consumer confidence were strong enough), but weaker Obama numbers in the face of better economic numbers — possibly made irrelevant by higher gas prices and talk of a war in the Middle East — would suggest that opposition to the president is quicker to harden than previously thought.

While Democrats can take advantage of the GOP’s poor image and of Romney’s wealth and stiffness to portray the general election as a fight for the middle class against the rich, Romney is still best positioned to make the election a referendum on Obama, on the president’s performance over the past four years and on the public’s confidence (or lack of confidence) about the results of a second Obama term.

Given that the 2012 presidential contest still looks as if it will turn on the decisions of swing voters in 10 states, November’s results are not at all a foregone conclusion.

Correction: My last column on the prospects of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) incorrectly stated that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal endorsed Mitt Romney after Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s exit from the GOP race. In fact, Jindal has not endorsed any candidate since Perry left the race.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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