JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 6, 2011
Of course she can:
When PPP polled New Hampshire in April Michele Bachmann was stuck at 4%. She's gained 14 points over the last three months and now finds herself within single digits of Mitt Romney. Romney continues to lead the way in the state with 25% to 18% for Bachmann, 11% for Sarah Palin, 9% for Ron Paul, 7% for Rick Perry and Herman Cain, 6% for Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, and 4% for Newt Gingrich.
Now, another recent poll had Romney leading her by a healthier 35%-12% margin. But the general pattern of Bachmann rising in New Hampshire and holding a clear second place seems unmistakable.
Much of the press coverage discounting Bachmann as a candidate, at least beyond Iowa, rests on the assumption that she won't play well outside that state in general, or in New Hampshire specifically. I think this is the same error much of the press corps made during the Democratic primary fight four years before. Throughout 2007, Hillary Clinton held huge national polling leads over Barack Obama. Part of this reflected Clinton's higher name recognition. Another part reflected the fact that many Democrats who hadn't seriously tuned into the race didn't yet take Obama seriously as a candidate. They supported Clinton because Clinton was going to win. But that began to change quickly after Obama won the Iowa Caucus, which provided positive media coverage, and imbued him with the aura of a winner and a plausible nominee. (And to toot my own horn a bit, I was insisting Obama had a strong chance to win for months on end through 2007 when most campaign writers were insisting on describing Clinton as the runaway favorite.)
This dynamic only works if you have the underlying condition of an insurgent candidate who voters who pay close attention are predisposed to like more than the favorite. I think that dynamic probably holds true for Bachmann vis a vis Romney. As Gallup notes, Bachmann's "positive intensity" -- the percentage of voters with strongly positive views of her minus those with strongly negative views -- is ten points higher than Romney's.
Romney benefits from high name recognition and front-runner status. But his vaunted fundraising advantage is far smaller than previously assumed -- he barely made one-third of his first quarter goal. Even before sustaining serious attacks, his favorable ratings in New Hampshire are dropping at rates that ought to terrify his campaign:
Romney's starting to show some signs of weakness in New Hampshire. His support is down 12 points from 37% on the iteration of our April poll that didn't include Mike Huckabee or Donald Trump. His favorability numbers are headed in the wrong direction as well. He's dropped a net 18 points from +49 at 68/19 to +31 at 60/29. He's certainly still the front runner in the state but he's not looking as inevitable as he did a few months ago.
Many reporters have noted that a one-on-one matchup between Romney and Bachmann is Romney's dream scenario. That's true -- it's his best chance to have the establishment rally behind him. I haven't seen them mention that it's also Bachmann's dream scenario -- she gets to face off against an establishment candidate totally unacceptable to large segments of the party base.
Now, the far greater danger to Bachmann is that she faces off against somebody other than Romney -- say, Rick Perry, or possibly even Paul Ryan -- who can appeal to right-wingers and party elites as well. A Perry run seems highly likely and could easily reorder the race. At the same time, he might not run, or he might flop. Meanwhile, the assumption that Bachmann will fizzle out after Iowa seems far, far too pat.