WSJ poll: GOP presidential hopefuls struggle with name recognition

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Republican leaders believe the 2016 presidential nominee could likely come from the party’s group of governors, building on successes on the state level.

That is if voters only knew who they are.

Two of the most talked about GOP names — Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — currently struggle with name recognition, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Both governors are unfamiliar to American adults, Kasich by 61 percent and walker by 54 percent.

The poll highlights both the challenges and opportunities in the 2016 presidential field, writes Beth Reinhard of the Wall Street Journal. Fifty-eight percent of respondents did not recognize retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose provocative speeches have made him popular among conservatives. Faring a little better are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, two Tea Party favorites who are unknown to only 39 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Recent history shows the GOP preferring candidates with higher national profiles or previous runs for the presidency. In a 2006 Journal poll, 56 percent of adults were not familiar with Mitt Romney, who lost the nomination to John McCain, a two-time candidate, in 2008.

Romney had improved by December 2010, when only 22 percent did not know who he was, winning the nomination in 2012.

In contrast, Democrat Hillary Clinton enjoyed nearly universal name recognition and is seen positively by 43 percent, with 40 percent negative. Those numbers are roughly the same as in December 2006, prior to her first White House campaign.

Barack Obama, at the time a freshman U.S. senator from Illinois and without the baggage of Clinton from more than a decade in Washington, received a 35 percent positive ranking, and only 13 percent negative.

Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is also viewed (by some) as a challenge to Clinton in 2016. Warren’s approval numbers, by those who recognize her, is 23 percent positive and 17 percent negative.

So far, the most recognizable Republican is Jeb Bush, Reinhard writes. The former Florida governor is viewed positively by 26 percent, with 33 percent negative.

A few Republicans say the Bush name could complicate matters – as a surname of two past presidents – making it difficult to strike out as a leader, a problem that could cancel out if he faced Clinton in 2016.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey enjoys a better image (slightly) but it is suffering from the George Washington Bridge scandal last year. Once the allegations of political retribution surfaced in January, Christie’s negative views outweighed the positive, 29 to 22 percent.

Months of campaigning for GOP candidates as chair of the Republican Governors Association helped move the needle, where positive and negative views of Christie are now even at 29 percent.

Reinhard notes that last year Christie had 41 percent positive and only 12 percent negative—an admirable 29-point difference.

Rick Perry of Texas is another fairly well known governor, particularly after his 2012 run for president. Twenty percent of voters view Perry positively and negatively by 29 percent — 9 points underwater.

The only politician with a bigger deficit is Cruz, instigator of the government shutdown last year; 16 percent view him positively, and 26 percent negatively.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who opposed Perry in 2012, is about even, with 25 percent positive and 24 percent negative.

After his father ran for president three times, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was possibly the best-known senator considering a run in 2016. Only 25 percent of respondents said they do not know him or are unsure who he is. Rand’s positives are 26 percent and negatives are 23 percent. Nevertheless, despite his efforts at reaching out to minority and younger voters, who traditionally lean toward Democrats, his negatives with those groups are higher than his positives.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.