It’s becoming increasingly hard to say whether Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, the two leading Republican presidential candidates, would fare better against Barack Obama. The latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows Gingrich trailing Obama by just 6 percentage points — 46 to 40 percent. Less than a month and a half ago, Gingrich trailed Obama by 15 points (49 to 34 percent). Meanwhile, Romney trails Obama by just 1 point — 43 to 42 percent.
Taking the longer view, Romney has been remarkably consistent in his matchups with Obama. Across 11 Rasmussen surveys of likely voters over the past six months, Romney has always been within a 6-point range versus Obama — between 38 and 44 percent. Likewise, Obama has always been within a 6-point range versus Romney — between 40 and 46 percent. However, with his slightly higher levels of support, Obama has gone 7-4 versus Romney in these matchups. Moreover, while Romney and Obama split the first six matchups, Obama has won four of the past five.
Obama’s own numbers have been similarly consistent in his matchups versus Gingrich. Across five Rasmussen polls of likely voters over the past six months (fewer polls have been taken of Gingrich versus Obama than of Romney versus Obama), Obama has always been within a 6-point range versus Gingrich — between 44 and 50 percent. However, Gingrich’s own numbers have moved up steadily, and considerably — from 30 percent, to 34, to 38, to 38 (again), and now to 40. As a result, while Gringrich trailed Obama by 18 points six months ago (48 to 30 percent), he now trails him by only 6 points (46 to 40 percent). Likely voters who originally said they didn’t prefer either Gingrich or Obama gradually seem to be moving into Gingrich’s camp, while Obama’s numbers have stayed flat.
Each of these two leading GOP candidates certainly has his strengths in an electoral vein. Romney consistently fares better than Gingrich among independents — the block of voters who will likely decide the election — while Gingrich’s support among the Tea Party could help energize the party’s base, which in turn could influence independents (who are generally more apt to rally behind candidates who have the enthusiastic support of others — a fact that seems to be particularly true for GOP candidates across the years).
Nearly a year out from the election, none of these poll numbers are remotely etched in stone — perhaps especially in Gingrich’s case, since his movement of late has been so evident. More important might be what each of the candidates would emphasize versus Obama, and how well he would emphasize it. Romney has consistently focused on the economy, saying that “fostering job creation through economic growth” will be his “top priority from his first day in office.” Meanwhile, Gingrich says that his top priority is “repealing Obamacare,” adding, “I think that’ll be the campaign theme in September and October of next year.”