Familiarity, contempt, and presidential candidates

FAMILIARITY, CONTEMPT, AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES…. The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake raised a point the other day that struck me as interesting, but mistaken. On Twitter, Blake wrote:

“Can we stop acting surprised when a politician’s home state doesn’t want him/her to run for prez? This is true everywhere.”

Is it? I’ve had some trouble tracking down old polling data — if anyone has better access to these numbers, I hope you’ll let me know — so this is admittedly just my sense of things, but Blake’s observation seems to have plenty of counter-examples.

In advance of 2008, for example, voters in Illinois seemed pretty excited about the idea of Barack Obama running for president, just as New Yorkers approved of Hillary Clinton seeking national office. I think Texans were delighted when then-Gov. George W. Bush was pondering a presidential campaign in the late ’90s, and Arkansans expected and supported then-Gov. Bill Clinton’s ’92 efforts.

The point isn’t just academic. Public Policy Polling this week released some survey data from several key battleground states, and found that Minnesotans aren’t at all impressed with the notion of outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) plans for a presidential campaign. His support in his home state is, as PPP put it, “surprisingly weak.”

Similarly, in 2008, voters in Massachusetts had very negative attitudes about Mitt Romney’s (R) bid for national office, and if I had to bet, I’d say his standing in the state he led hasn’t improved.

Does this matter? It’s unreasonable to think it does — these are instances in which voters have had a chance to see these candidates up close and personal for several years. I’m aware of the familiarity-breeds-contempt dynamic, which may skew perspectives a bit, but if those who know the candidates best don’t consider them presidential caliber, and in some cases, these guys might even struggle to win their own state in a national general election, the polls seem relevant.