Kelly Conaty / AP
Sunday, April 17, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Well, I’m eating my hat.
If you tuned into “State of Nevada” on KNPR 88.9-FM about a week ago, you would have heard me speculating that the GOP probably wouldn’t be taking too seriously the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV nightmare boss extraordinaire.
To cover myself, I will say I was on the public-affairs program with former Nevada Gov. Bob List, and he didn’t leap to disagree.
But it looks like the party may be taking a closer look at Trump in the future, because according to a recent poll, he is trouncing every other presumed Republican candidate in a head-to-head matchup.
Public Policy Polling released a poll Friday that shows in a hypothetical national runoff, Trump would win 26 percent of the vote, routing runners-up Mike Huckabee, who would garner 17 percent; Mitt Romney, who would pull in 15 percent; Newt Gingrich, who got 11 percent; Sarah Palin, who brought in 8 percent; and Ron Paul’s 5 percent. Minnesotans Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, who are expected to be influential candidates in the 2012 race if not favorites, took only 4 percent in the poll.
Those results certainly turn the field on its head and present a more dynamic race than was expected to march into Nevada for caucuses early next year.
Romney has had the biggest base of support in the Silver State. But Trump’s got a base of a sort, too, especially in Las Vegas, the site of one of his International Hotels.
How much traction he can get in Nevada remains an open question. The Nevada Republican establishment tends to dismiss Trump’s campaign as a publicity push to increase the ratings of his NBC show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Trump isn’t what you would call a mainstream political candidate. But the GOP, especially in Nevada, hasn’t always gone for what’s mainstream.
In 2008, the party nominated Sen. John McCain, the surprise victor from a field of conservatives who had pilloried him for his immigrant-friendly positions. He pulled in Sarah Palin, then Alaska’s governor, whose political and personal quirks have led many conservative scions such as Bill Kristol to dismiss her; although she has simultaneously tapped the attention of a reality TV audience (so Trump wouldn’t be the first).
On the local front, it wasn’t long ago that Sharron Angle, buoyed by a groundswell of Tea Party support, emerged from relative obscurity to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a run for his political life. (Trump has donated to Reid’s campaign.)
Trump, though, is more incendiary, and less polished — which is all the more apparent because he loves the limelight. But if the PPP poll is any indication, it seems to be working.
Trump’s a businessman and a marketer, and so far, he’s built his startup presidential campaign on issues that guarantee him at least a modicum of attention: for example, the fringe birther movement. Trump told the Associated Press that President Barack Obama should be compelled to present his birth certificate to the country. Obama has presented a “certification of live birth” from Hawaii.
Trump would face serious scrutiny if he believes the momentum alluded to by these polls and officially declares his candidacy. Trump’s personal financial disclosure statement — due within 30 days of registering a campaign with the Federal Election Commission — would be a lengthy and potentially contorted mess of paperwork.
Liberal bloggers are calling the poll into question, saying the setup to the question about Trump’s candidacy almost invited respondents to select the Donald. The question was as follows: “Here’s one last scenario: what if Donald Trump ran for President and the candidates were Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump. Who would you vote for?”
Still, the poll had him besting the field by 9 points.
But Trump has to hold that lead for nine months before anyone actually gets the chance to cast a primary ballot or caucus for him. And that’s plenty of time for Trump to trip up, or others to close the gap.