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U.S. President Barack Obama during an announcement at the White House in Washington, Feb. 9, 2012. (LARRY DOWNING/Larry Downing/Reuters)
U.S. President Barack Obama during an announcement at the White House in Washington, Feb. 9, 2012. (LARRY DOWNING/Larry Downing/Reuters)

Who would fare best against Obama: Romney or Santorum? Add to ...

The Republican leadership contest has been mainly about Mitt Romney and his latest challenger.

Newt Gingrich has come and gone – twice – and may come back yet again.

For now, though, it is Mitt Romney versus Rick Santorum. And each campaign makes a case for why their candidate is best positioned to take on President Barack Obama. However, polls suggest that both are pretty even in a contest against President Obama, and that in both instances they would probably lose.

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The Mitt Romney campaign argument for a November Romney versus Obama contest goes something like this: our candidate has run a state, run a successful company and can put this country back on track. And of all the GOP candidates, he is the most electable.

In fact, the RealClearPolitics average of polls based on a Romney versus Obama contest shows that Mr. Romney is trailing Mr. Obama by about 6 per cent among national voters.

The Rick Santorum campaign argument for a November Santorum versus Obama contest goes something like this: our candidate represents the clearest contrast with President Obama, he is a true ideological conservative, and unlike Mitt Romney he did not inspire President Obama’s health-care reform.

Again, the RealClearPolitics average of polls based on a Santorum versus Obama contest shows that Mr. Santorum is trailing Mr. Obama by just over 7 per cent among national voters.

As for how the remaining candidates would do in a contest against Mr. Obama: according to the RealClearPolitics average, Newt Gingrich is trailing by 14 percent, while Ron Paul is behind by 8 percent.

This kind of polling is still pretty early in the game, and often influenced by the ongoing Republican leadership contest in which candidates are busy attacking each other rather keeping the focus firmly on Mr. Obama.

Once the GOP has settled on its nominee, and the spotlight turns to a presidential contest between President Obama and a Republican, these numbers may well change.

But President Obama is counting his own wins lately: last week’s victory in getting congress to extend a payroll tax cut, combined with slightly improving unemployment figures has given the president a slight bump in his approval ratings.

The economy is by no means a settled issue, and Mr. Obama’s approval ratings could shift dramatically if the U.S. economy does not improve and unemployment flares-up.

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