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Perry vs. Romney: Does it matter whom Obama faces in 2012? In short, yes.

Even with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, it still matters whom the Republican Party nominates to face Obama. For now, Romney appears likely to be a tougher foe than Perry.

By Staff writer / September 15, 2011

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (l.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry gesture during a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, in Tampa, Fla.

Mike Carlson/AP

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Washington

Suppose for the moment that the 2012 election is just a few months away, and President Obama still has a fighting chance at reelection.

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Unemployment is creeping downward, though still not far from 9 percent. The economy is still growing, barely. And Mr. Obama has managed to nudge his job approval ratings up near 47 percent.

Will it matter whom the Republican Party nominates? In a word, yes.

“Who the nominee is will be very, very important,” says Karlyn Bowman, an expert on polling at the American Enterprise Institute.

Democrats keep insisting that the presidential race will be a choice, not just a referendum on the incumbent. And the Republican nominee, no matter who it is, will not be without flaws. As Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) put it at a Monitor-hosted breakfast Thursday, Obama is “not running against the Almighty, he’s running against the alternative.”

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, frames Obama’s prospects this way: “He’s eminently beatable, and Republicans smell this. But in electoral politics, it’s always compared to whom.”

As of now, the GOP race seems to have boiled down to a choice between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That, of course, could change, especially if a major new prospect enters the race. But for the sake of argument, let’s say either Governor Perry or Mr. Romney will get the nod.

Polls show that GOP voters believe Perry is electable, but polls of general election voters show Romney faring better than Perry against Obama. The Real Clear Politics average gives Obama a four-point lead over Perry but just a one-point lead over Romney.

Among independent voters, Romney has the clear advantage. In the latest survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP), Perry’s favorability with independents is just 23 percent (with 51 percent seeing him unfavorably). Romney is seen favorably by 44 percent of independents, and unfavorably by 39 percent.

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