Palin Still Rules, But Romney is Gaining

Who stands to benefit the most from Mark Sanford's troubles? Well, amid all the news yesterday, we missed this new poll the finds Mitt Romney's numbers are inching up, not just among Republicans but the general public According to the latest Pew survey, 40 percent of those surveyed viewed Romney "favorably"—about a 10 percent increase compared to February 2008 when he quit the GOP presidential primary. Still, Sarah Palin remains the most popular GOP figure, with a 45 percent favorable rating. Among Republicans alone, Palin is WAY more popular than Romney, with a 73 percent favorable rating compared to Romney's 57 percent. And that's a very important number—after all a candidate has to make it through the GOP primary first.

The good news for Romney: While she remains enormously popular among Republicans, Palin's numbers have been pretty steady since last fall, while Romney is moving up. According to Pew, Romney has made equal gains among both conservative Republicans and those who describe themselves as moderate or liberal Republicans. If there is a push to move the party toward the middle—as some suggest the GOP should do in order to be more competitive with Barack Obama—Romney seems to be the candidate best positioned to benefit from that change.

But what will Romney's message be? With some exceptions, the Massachusetts governor has largely been laying low lately, which is a smart political move. We've seen him talking out talking about the economy and the dangers of Obama's spending habits, but Romney does not seem to be positioning himself to win over social conservatives as he did in the last campaign—although it is still very early. After the 2008 primary, many wondered what Romney's political fate would have been had he just run on the moderate record he had as a governor, as opposed to moving toward the right. Although these numbers won't matter in the GOP primary, Pew finds that Romney has made his biggest gain among so-called independent voters. Back in 2008, just 29 percent of that important voting bloc had a favorable view of Romney, while 46 percent didn't like him. Today, those numbers have-- to use a phrase that haunted Romney during the campaign--flip-flopped. Now, 44 percent of independents view Romney favorably. Those are important stats for a party looking to mount a strong opponent against Obama.