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How Gingrich is Closing the Electability Gap

Even before Mitt Romney’s subpar debate performance Saturday night, more and more commentators had been wondering aloud if he is really as electable as conventional wisdom suggests. Romney’s defenders point to polls consistently showing him garnering more votes in a theoretical general election matchup with President Obama.

But Gingrich is making gains there as well, as a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows. The accompanying article also explains the improvements in Gingrich’s numbers:

In swing states, Obama trails former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among registered voters by 5 points, 43% vs. 48%, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich by 3, 45% vs. 48%.

That’s a bit worse than the president fares nationwide, where he leads Gingrich 50%-44% and edges Romney 47%-46%.

The candidates’ performance in swing states is more important than the popular vote count, though both are key indicators. Why is Gingrich gaining on Obama? There are several possible reasons, and one of them is–like much of Gingrich’s political persona–the sense that what looks at first like a weakness can actually be a strength of the campaign.

Conor Friedersdorf wrote last week about how Gingrich, as president, would be held back by his insistence that so much of government needs “fundamental reform” rather than modest improvements. It’s a reasonable concern, as so much of Washington is institutionalized and full of bureaucratic white blood cells ready to destroy any infection of common sense or restraint.

And while some may object that Obamacare is evidence that “fundamental transformation” can be engineered at the federal level, remember that not only did the health care overhaul require one-party dominance, but the end result was less to “transform” the system than to simply overburden it. Friedersdorf’s skepticism is therefore understandable.

But with the revelation that the real unemployment rate is actually over 11 percent, perhaps voters will be attracted to the thought of “fundamental transformation” of the Obama economy. The USA Today story indicates that might even be the case for former Obama voters:

Amy Rybarczyk, 37, a pharmacist from Uniontown, Ohio, who was among those surveyed, voted with élan for Obama in 2008, helping him carry what has been the nation’s quintessential swing state for a generation.

This time, she wants to see which contender the GOP nominates before deciding.

“I’m still kind of waiting to see how things are going to turn out,” Rybarczyk said in a follow-up interview. “I just feel that the system is so broken that anybody you put there is ineffective. It’s hard to see actual change happen.”

That’s Gingrich’s argument. It’s a tall order, but it might be a more attractive approach than promising to work–even effectively–within the system.



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