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Have conservatives finally stopped looking for the Romney alternative?

Evidence is mounting that conservative voters are coalescing behind Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee, after months of casting about for another champion. His acceptability rating has been rising.

By Staff writer / January 12, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, Thursday. Conservative voters may not consider former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney their ideal presidential candidate, but they appear to be gradually coming around to him.

Joe Skipper/Reuters


Conservative voters may not consider former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney their ideal presidential candidate, but they appear to be gradually coming around to him. How they feel will be a big factor in whether Mr. Romney can prevail despite the biggest onslaught of attacks against him so far in advance of South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.

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Among conservative Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationwide, 59 percent consider Romney an acceptable nominee – while 51 percent say the same about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 50 percent about former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, according to a Gallup poll Jan. 10.

Romney’s acceptability rating among conservatives is up from 54 percent on Dec. 1.

His historic double win in Iowa and New Hampshire, and exit polls out of New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary, also suggest Romney’s conservative backing has started to solidify.

“Nothing succeeds like success,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The reality is, the odds substantially if not heavily favor Romney to be the Republican nominee. People who identify with a party do their best to adjust to reality. It’s a gradual process,” he says.

It certainly helps Romney that that other conservative candidates – Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry – are splitting some of the conservative vote.

But electability – who can beat President Obama in November – also appears to be looming large, perhaps trumping traditional conservative issues for many such voters, political analysts say.

According to CBS News exit polling from New Hampshire’s Tuesday vote.

• Among the 35 percent of voters who said electability was the most important factor, 63 percent supported Romney.

• Romney was chosen by 33 percent of voters who considered themselves very conservative and 48 percent who were somewhat conservative.

• Even among those very conservative on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, 29 percent supported Romney.

• Those who strongly support the tea party movement also came in for Romney at 36 percent.

• Born-again evangelical Christians gave Romney 31 percent of their vote.

In all of the above categories, no other candidate outdid Romney.

Still, conservatives in South Carolina are more socially conservative than in New Hampshire, so Romney is now being forced to defend himself more vigorously to these voters.

The Gingrich campaign has been portraying Romney as a flip-flopper on abortion in an ad campaign in the state, pushing Romney to remind voters he’s a “pro-life” candidate.


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