Can She Beat Him?

Sarah Palin is being widely quoted tonight, telling Barbara Walters that she thinks she can beat President Obama in 2012, and is indeed exploring a Presidential bid. Is this a surprise? Of course not. As her party’s Vice-Presidential candidate in 2008, Palin is on the short list of 2012 contenders, and right now it looks as though whoever the Republicans nominate will be the favorite. So, sure, Palin could beat Obama, assuming that the Democrats re-nominate him and assuming no drastic changes in the political landscape between now and then.
But that doesn’t address the real question, which is whether Palin will be her party’s best choice in 2012. There is much to be said on that topic, but in terms of electability, the evidence currently suggests that most of the other contenders would be better choices. A case in point is Public Policy Polling data released today on Montana, which one would expect to be Palin-friendly territory. Here are the key stats:
These poll data are pretty typical. Palin leads Barack Obama, to be sure, but these days that is no great feat in a state like Montana. The fact is that in this poll, as in many others, she rivals Newt Gingrich–sorry, Newt–for the title of least effective Republican. Both Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, neither of whom seems stereotypically strong in Montana, fare much better. What seems ironic about this is that Huckabee and Romney are pretty much polar opposites as candidates.
I will grudgingly admit that Huckabee is a sort of conservative, but he is not the kind of conservative I want as President. His economic populism sometimes leads him alarmingly close to liberalism. On the other hand, he is probably the most talented politician now working in either party.
Romney is the opposite: he understands the economy better than any politician in either party, and, at a time of economic stress, I would be delighted to have him as President. I’m just not sure he can get himself elected.
2012 is a long way away, but the outlines of the race seem somewhat clear. Of all the Republican candidates, Sarah Palin is probably the best known. She has, for that reason, the least up-side among uncommitted voters. Currently, a majority of uncommitted voters view her unfavorably. That may be unfair; it certainly isn’t my opinion. But it is based on a considerable amount of information. So there ought to be an opening for candidates like Tim Pawlenty, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and others who are now less well known to voters but are likely to prove less polarizing than Palin and Huckabee, and perhaps more broadly appealing than Romney.