***Underwater

We have a new data point today on the impact of the GOP nominating contest on the general electorate, and if I were a Republican, I’d be worried, per ABC pollster Gary Langer:

All four Republican contenders remain underwater in overall favorability in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, marking the difficulties the survivor may face against Barack Obama. More Americans hold negative than positive views of Romney by a 10-point margin, Rick Santorum by 8 points, Ron Paul by 9 points and Newt Gingrich by a whopping 33 points.

Among customarily swing-voting independents, moreover, all but Paul is seen more unfavorably than favorably in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. And Paul’s got trouble, as does Gingrich, within the GOP itself.

Mitt Romney, responding to immediate market pressures like any good corporate consultant would do, has managed to boost his ratings among conservatives without improving his overall general election standing:

Romney has improved among both “very” and “somewhat” conservative Americans, as well as among conservative Republicans in particular – up by 12, 10 and 11 points in these groups, respectively, versus a week ago. His gain among very conservatives comes from the ranks of the undecided in this group; among somewhat conservatives, by contrast, negative views moved to positive ones.

Indeed Romney, after falling to new lows among conservatives before the Michigan and Arizona contests, has moved back to parity with Santorum among some conservative groups, notably conservative Republicans. In this group, 67 percent now see Romney favorably; Santorum, 68 percent.

As has been increasingly apparent throughout the contest, Ron Paul has been firmly rejected by actual Republicans:

He’s at 38-35 percent among independents, better than his rivals; but, at 38-44 percent among Republicans, numerically the worst of the lot within the GOP.

And Newt, as might well have been predicted, has spent an awful lot of Sheldon Adelson’s money in order to achieve pretty much the same national pariah status he earned in the mid-to-late 1990s:

Deepest into the sea is Gingrich – 23 percent of Americans see him favorably, a new low this election cycle; 56 percent unfavorably, a new high. Republicans essentially divide on Gingrich, but independents see him negatively by a vast 58-21 percent.

Democrats, of course, deeply regret that Newt’s return to his familiar public standing didn’t occur much later–say, after he won the GOP nomination. But donkeys hold out hope that Mitt Romney will succumb to the same force of gravity–and the same tradeoff of “swing” for “base” voters–that’s already evident in the numbers.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.