The Kaiser Family Foundation's latest tracking poll has some worrisome news for the remaining four Republican presidential contenders, not the least of which is its finding that 53 percent of all Republicans don't want Medicare messed with.
As the survey put it, they want Medicare "as it is today, with the government guaranteeing seniors health insurance and making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of benefits."
That leaves all the GOP candidates out of sync with most Republicans on Medicare. Add Democrats to the equation - just as they'll be after the primary season - and the numbers are stunningly lopsided, with about 70 percent of Americans saying they favor the Medicare program as it exists today.
Only about 25 percent of Americans, according to the Kaiser poll, say they favor a premium-support approach that moves away from traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
So where are the GOP candidates on Medicare?
- Ron Paul calls Medicare unconstitutional but acknowledges that deep-sixing it would be politically implausible.
- Newt Gingrich has praised a premium-support plan advanced by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
- Rick Santorum has said that he would abolish fee-for-service Medicare.
- And Mitt Romney has put forward his own plan.
Here's Romney speaking at a rally on the eve of Florida's Jan. 31. GOP primary:
"So if I'm president, I will protect Medicare and Social Security, for those that are currently retired or near retirement, and I'll make sure we keep those programs solvent for the next generations coming along. We will protect America's seniors and America's young people with programs that are designed to keep them well and safe. And I will make sure that we protect Medicare and Social Security."
If you don't listen closely, you might think that Romney is solid with the 70 percent of Americans who want Medicare left alone. But zero in on the nine-word disclaimer - "for those that are currently retired or near retirement" - and the straddle becomes clear.
With Super Tuesday just around the corner, none of the GOP candidates has made Medicare much of an issue so far in the campaign, and the Kaiser poll may well explain why. But come this fall, one of them may have lots of persuading to do. - Bill Hogan