The GOP's 2012 Enthusiasm Gap

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New numbers out this morning bring bad news for Barack Obama but worse news for every single one of the GOP candidates. According to a poll by ABC News/Washington Post out today, only 43 percent of Republicans say they're satisfied with the potential candidates for president and a further 17 percent have no opinion about the field. These two numbers are dramatically low compared to this stage in the 2008 elections, and analysts suggest that the GOP candidates' reticence to formally enter the race might have something to do with the lack of enthusiasm.

Apathetic Republicans notwithstanding, things aren't going that well for the president. Though he's still clutching the lead in polls, Obama's job approval rating has dropped seven points since January, and his personal popularity hit a career low at 47 percent as economic pessimism continues. Fifty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy--a tie with his career low on that issue--and nearly half of those polled think the economy is getting worse. Were Sarah Palin to win a nomination Obama would crush her according to the numbers; Palin trails Obama by 17 points in the polls. But if it were Mitt, Obama's lead shrinks to a just 4 percent. Moderates have also cooled on Obama at the same time that they've warmed up to Romney.

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The Washington Post suggests that low enthusiasm at this point in the race paves the way for new candidates to jump in the same way that Gen. Wesley Clark did in 2004 and Fred Thompson in 2008. (However, it should be noted that neither of them got close to winning a nomination.) Names floated as potential latecomers include Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, or Rick Santorum, who "gets 110 percent" from Glenn Beck

But the real rogue this time around might be former Utah Governor and Obama's ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Though many write off Huntsman for his close connection to (and affection for) Obama fan, the National Journal's Beth Reinhard says that his knowledge of what doesn't work in the administration could be a strength. Since his current status as a government employee prevents Huntsman from any campaign activities, he's brushed off suggestions and done a lot of grinning when asked about his potential candidacy, though recent news that a team of McCain campaign alums is already working for him in South Carolina suggests otherwise. One state senator there told CNN that there's "a real potential for Jon Huntsman to be the Reagan Republican who can inspire a new generation of conservatives." 

A New York Times profile on Huntsman and his viability as a presidential candidate supplies similar conclusions and paints a portrait of the man as some kind of superpolitician:

A candidacy by Mr. Huntsman would test just how frustrated voters are with the party’s lineup and would determine whether there is room in a Republican primary for a fiscal conservative and social moderate, who would present himself as a strong general election choice...
Mr. Huntsman, 51, is a motorcycle-riding, keyboard-playing, Mandarin-speaking Mormon, who worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush. His family, which owns the Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company, is one of the wealthiest in Utah, worth more than $1 billion, which has only fueled speculation that he could invest his own money into a campaign.

A blank slate, who's-that candidate with charisma and good looks might be just what the Republican voters are hungry for. Especially after a couple months cheering on Donald Trump.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.