Bachmann-Gingrich in 2012?


You heard it here first.

Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who’s the darling of the Tea Party, will be the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012.

That’s right, Bachmann will edge past GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, with victories in Iowa and South Carolina, and a close second-place finish in New Hampshire, setting her firmly on the path to the nomination.

It may seem premature to make such a shocking prediction, but the trend lines are all shifting in Bachmann’s favor.

She has already pulled even with Romney in the latest Des Moines Register poll, and even Tim Pawlenty’s campaign co-chair admits: “She’s the one to beat.” Pawlenty has the best ground organization of any candidate in Iowa but his campaign has yet to gain traction.

Bachmann has inherited many of the staffers from Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, and with her base among evangelical Christians, she’s also Huckabee’s spiritual heir. But unlike Huckabee, Bachmann also has a real shot at victory in New Hampshire. The latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll has her within single digits of Romney, 25-18. Romney once had a commanding lead over the entire field, but he’s fallen 12 points since the last PPP poll, while Bachmann has gained 14 points.

Even with a sizable war chest, strong name recognition and the best field organization, Romney’s campaign seems to have stalled in second gear.

A closer look at recent New Hampshire polling results indicates just how competitive Bachmann is likely to be. According to PPP, her favorability rating among Republicans is 64%, higher than any other candidate’s. And her net favorability rating — the difference between the percentage of people who view her favorably and the percentage of people who view her unfavorably — among Republicans is +40, which is also higher than any other candidate’s. Romney’s favorability rating among Republicans has fallen to 60%, while his net favorability rating is down to +31.

The upshot: The more Republicans learn about Romney, the less they like him; but the more they learn about Bachmann, the more they like her.

Bachmann’s lead over Romney is even wider among independent voters. Romney’s favorability rating with independents is just 48%, compared to 57% for Bachmann. Some polling experts predict that as many as 40% of New Hampshire primary voters will be independents.

The Bachmann surge among different voter groups puts the lie to the claim that she’s a “fringe” candidate who’s too far to the right of Romney to appeal to moderates. Romney does poll much better than Bachmann among self-identified Democrats, but independents are the key to winning in New Hampshire and nationally. Bachmann’s vocal attacks on President Obama and her strong stances on social issues don’t appear to be alienating these voters.

Bachmann’s biggest weakness, perhaps, is her lack of a Southern base. But here’s another shocking prediction: If she wins the nomination, she’s likely to choose former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich as her running mate.

Why Gingrich? He’s the perfect foil to Bachmann: thoughtful and steeped in history and policy minutiae. He can turn her fiery billboard slogans into sage-like reflections. And he’s a grizzled veteran, a steady Joe Biden-like presence who can serve as a genial counterpoint to her “insurgent” presence.

And, of course, Gingrich is a Southerner, with strong name recognition in the Deep South, where Bachmann is largely unknown. Huckabee swept the Deep South in 2008, and with Gingrich’s help, Bachmann could well do the same.

Here’s another little-known fact: Gingrich polls extremely well with independents, much better than Bachmann, in fact. And in a head-to-head contest with Obama, he polls second only to Romney.

Gingrich, more than any other GOP candidate, could help Bachmann in a general election without alienating the GOP base.

But what about Texas Governor Rick Perry, the candidate who so many are hoping will “save” the party in 2012, and who some expect will jump in shortly?

Don’t count on him running. He’ll start at a significant disadvantage in Iowa, and he’s highly unlikely to gain traction this late in New Hampshire. That leaves South Carolina, where there is no clear frontrunner.

Even so, most polls seem to suggest that Perry won’t catch on with GOP voters — certainly not like Bachmann has. In the latest national polls, he’s still in single digits. And in New Hampshire, among those who have heard of him, his net favorability is lower than Romney’s or Bachmann’s.

That’s right: Bachmann-Gingrich in 2012. You heard it here first.

Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.

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