Americans aren't ready for Mitt, new poll finds

Or any other Republican, for that matter

Published January 22, 2015 2:23PM (EST)

         (AP/Charles Dharapak)
(AP/Charles Dharapak)

Mitt Romney hopes that the third time will be the charm for his White House aspirations, but a new ABC News-Washington Post poll suggests that he'll have a hard time convincing voters to hand him the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who signaled to a group of GOP donors earlier this month that he's considering another White House bid, starts out at a 15-point disadvantage to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the poll finds. The former secretary of state leads Romney 55 to 40 percent among registered voters.

That's a slightly larger lead than Clinton holds over three other potential GOP contenders. She leads Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul 54 to 41 percent, identical to her advantage over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Meanwhile, Clinton leads New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by a similar 53 to 40 percent margin. Only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee performed worse than Romney, trailing Clinton 39 to 56 percent.

The poll underscores that despite the perception that voters have warmed to Romney since he lost to President Obama two years ago, he would face an electorate that's hardly enamored of him. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found Romney's favorability rating underwater; only 27 percent of respondents viewed him favorably, while 40 percent viewed him negatively.

If he enters the 2016 contest and -- an even bigger if -- he secures the GOP nomination, an unfavorable public image won't be the only hurdle Romney confronts. Amid an improving economy, Americans increasingly approve of President Obama's job performance, and Democrats may be poised to reap the rewards in 2016. Romney has reportedly blamed his 2012 loss on the nation's economic recovery, raising the question of why he thinks he stands a better chance of victory when the economy will almost certainly be even more vibrant next year.

But we may be deprived of the chance to see Romney run again. According to the New York Times, he and Bush will meet this week in Utah, which may or may not indicate that the two men are looking to avoid a knock-down, drag-out fight to win over the GOP's plutocratic donor base. Given the aggressive early moves Bush has made to lock up support for 2016, it's hard to see him dropping out, and Romney may be chastened by the overwhelmingly unfavorable reaction to his flirtation with another campaign. But Bush himself requested the meeting, and it'll be happening on Romney's turf, which hardly suggests that Bush has the upper hand in these talks. So much intrigue!

While it's not clear precisely what will go down in the Beehive State this week, this much is: At this early stage, 2016 looks like an uphill fight for Romney. Of course, there's always 2020.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker