Tom Jensen of PPP, which has been a deadly accurate pollster of late, assesses the early polling in the Presidential race and says that the picture emerging is of a race that becomes close only when Mitt Romney is the nominee:

A broad theme has been emerging in our state by state Presidential polling over the last couple months: if the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney it’s a toss up. And if they nominate anyone else it’s 2008 all over again. Our newest Nevada numbers very much reinforce that trend.

Barack Obama took the Silver State by 12 points in his first run. But if he had to stand for reelection today he’d be in a very competitive race against Romney, leading only 47-46 in the state. Pit him against any of the other Republicans there though and the numbers look pretty similar to last time- 9 point advantages over Herman Cain and Rick Perry at 48-39 and 49-40 respectively, a 10 point lead over Michele Bachmann at 50-40, and a 12 point advantage over Sarah Palin at 51-39.

Jensen says this trend holds in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan and North Carolina. And while it’s still very early, with 15 months to go before the 2012 elections, this is a pretty marked trend.

But I find that the nomination race has been pretty subdued so far. Maybe I’m consuming the wrong media, but the Ames Straw Poll is next week, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of hype out there. Maybe this is because the field is still incomplete, with question marks around Rick Perry or Sarah Palin or perhaps some other mystery candidate. But it feels like an afterthought at the moment.

Given that, Romney has the name recognition value based on his 2008 run, over pretty much everyone else in the field. And since we aren’t subjected yet to nightly reports about primary states, nobody is being exposed to the other potential nominees. This gives Romney a head start on the field in those trial heats.

It’s obvious that the Republican game plan is to make sure the economy stays tanked, allowing the nominee to criticize the President for failing to make gains. The Administration has had options for the past several years to deal with this which have little to do with Congress, but certainly this is the strategy. And if it’s successful, if the unemployment rate is still hovering around 9% next year, all bets are off. I don’t care who the GOP nominates. Romney looks like a breed apart right now, but does anyone think the talking points will change with a different nominee? They will all hammer Obama on the economy, offer the standard Republican platform of tax cuts and deregulation, and try to win that way. I’m not sure it matters who fills the empty suit.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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