GOP Pollster On 2012: Romney’s In Trouble, Obama Primary Challenge ‘Likely’

It’s hard to say who’s going to have a tougher 2012, Republican pollster Bill McInturff says. With the rise of the tea party Tuesday night, the man who should be in the best position for for the Republican nomination — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — is probably now on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, President Obama, who has failed to appease the left, according to McInturff, is in prime position for an embarrassing and weakening primary challenge from his own party.

Tuesday’s results blew up the classic GOP nomination model, McInturff told reporters this morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. A partner in the well-respected Public Opinion Strategies firm, which conducts polls for numerous Republican candidates as well as national media outlets like NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, McInturff said the numbers he’s been crunching show that Republican primary voters are less interested in throwing their support behind “the next guy in line,” as they may have been in the past.

That’s bad news for Romney. And potentially good news for Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, who’ve got tea on their side.[TPM SLIDESHOW: Meet Your New U.S. Senators]

Republicans today can be broken down into three groups, he said: GOP voters who do not support the tea party, voters who do support it but say they’re more Republican than tea partier, and Republicans who say they’re tea partiers first.

Among the non-tea partying types, Romney is the number one choice for party spokesperson in McInturff’s polling. This is not surprising, based on the old model for predicting GOP presidential nominees. Romney came in second in the primaries to John McCain, spent the most time and money out on the nascent campaign trail so far and is a name everyone knows.

But that’s likely not good enough now that the tea kettle is roaring at full steam in the GOP. Republicans who consider themselves tea party-leaning say Gingrich is their first choice for party spokesperson, with Palin a close second. Without that tea party cred that Palin and Gingrich wear so proudly, Romney’s road to the nomination is a lot tougher at this point.

McInturff was quick to point out that nothing is set in stone yet and, interestingly, that the tea party has not yet made up its 2012 mind. But he said that it was “hard to imagine” that two or three of the finalists for the nomination “won’t be very well represented among tea party supporters,” which Romney is not.

This is probably good news for Obama supporters. Palin and Gingrich have caught the eye of the tea party with extreme positions that probably don’t play as well as Romney’s straight-out-of-central-casting presidential image.

Other tea leaves McInturff read this morning are less positive for team Obama. McInturff’s polling finds that those opposing Obama’s current Afghanistan strategy are “overwhelmingly Democratic.”

McInturff said the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the continuing housing of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay and Obama’s propensity to “compromise” leave his left flank wide open for a Democratic challenger in the primaries. He added that based on his reading of things, a primary challenge is actually “very likely.”

McInturff even had a potential name for Obama’s liberal foil in 2012: just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI.)

Feingold said “it’s on to the next battle. It’s on to 2012,” in his concession speech Tuesday night, but the Wisconsin Democratic Party chair told the Lacrosse Tribune didn’t mean a presidential run was in Feingold’s future. But McInturff read the words today to mean exactly that.

Obama’s going to look “very different than in June than he does today,” McInturff said. “It’s not hard — hell, if I were Senator Feingold and I were now unemployed, I’d say ‘OK, did he close Guantanamo? No. He put 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, I’m not for that. He compromised too much’…it’s not hard to imagine what I’d run on in a Democratic primary against President Obama.”

McInturff isn’t the only one shopping names for an Obama primary challenge these days. In a widely-circulated (inside the DC bubble, anyway) Politico column today, Roger Simon posits that former DNC Chair Howard Dean could take the president on.

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