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The Romney ceiling: Can he ever win over conservatives? Does he need to?

No matter what, Mitt Romney appears unable to get more than 25 percent of likely GOP primary voters to choose him in a poll. But the other candidates' shortcomings could be all he needs.

By Staff writer / November 17, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaks with supporters after the debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena in November in Spartanburg, S.C.

Richard Shiro/AP

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What does Mitt Romney have to do to win his party’s base? And does he even need to?

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As the former Massachusetts governor’s eventual nomination as the GOP presidential candidate becomes ever more likely, there seems to be an increased desperation among those conservatives willing to ally themselves with anyone but him.

The momentum has swung from Michelle Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich as candidate after candidate flies high, only to crash. (Ron Paul has his own coterie of intensely loyal supporters, but also has a hard time winning the GOP base.)

So, why not Mitt?

Media speculation about the search for an “anti-Romney” candidate has been rampant for months, but polling suggests the idea isn’t just a fabrication of pundits looking for something to talk about.

Despite his success – and his consistency throughout the campaign – Mr. Romney seems to have hit a ceiling of about 25 percent in virtually any poll.

A recent Bloomberg News poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa suggests one reason, with 58 percent of those polled saying they would rule out any candidate who had favored a mandate to buy health insurance.

There was more opposition on that score than on any other point the voters were asked about, including how they felt about a candidate who had been married three times and had extramarital affairs (48 percent said they’d rule him out), or who had been accused of sexual harassment (30 percent).

To many core Republicans, Romney can’t shake his image as a liberal-to-moderate Northerner – a former GOP governor of a Democratic state who used to favor abortion rights and pushed through a health-insurance mandate that was the model for Obama’s.

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