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Rick Perry is starting to look like he may only have Mitt Romney left between him and the Republican presidential nomination. Democrats might initially be repulsed by this possibility — but should they be more jubilant?

In our first national poll pitting the two Obama leads Perry 49-43. That six point advantage is pretty comparable to Obama’s margin of victory over John McCain. Perry has certainly come on strong with Republicans but independents view him negatively already by an almost 2:1 margin, 29/55, and Democrats pretty universally give him bad ratings at a 10/71 spread. As a result Obama leads Perry thanks in large part to a 24 point advantage with independents at 56-32.

It’s a different story for Obama when it comes to the match up against Romney. There he can only achieve a tie at 45%, and because there are a lot more undecided Republicans than Democrats in all likelihood Romney would come out ahead if voters had to go to the polls and really make a decision today. Romney does better than Perry because he holds Obama to only a 9 point advantage with independents, 48-39, and because he loses only 5% of the Republican vote to Obama where Perry loses 10%.

None of the rest of the Republican hopefuls even fare as well as Perry. Obama leads Michele Bachmann by 8 points at 50-42, Herman Cain by 10 points at 49-39, and Sarah Palin by 13 points at 53-40. This poll is more confirmation of what’s become a broad trend in our polling- against Romney Obama faces a toss up and against anyone else he’s in decent shape for reelection.

And thus the paradox. Democrats are least frightened by Mitt Romney on policy, namely because he governed like a pragmatist, instituted universal healthcare (and sort-of stands by it), acknowledges the reality of global warming, refuses to sign the most egregious social pledges, and the like. But he is quite formidable in a general election against Obama, whereas Perry and the rest seem weak.

Is it worth the risk to the country — and the world — to have someone like Perry ahead a national party’s ticket? And if he does better than expected, will Democrats be pining for the more reasonable Republican in January 2013?

One thing is clear: Rick Perry’s rise is probably good for Barack Obama’s reelection hopes.

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