As the New Year’s weekend revelry slides toward the more serious Iowa caucuses next Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s steady-as-she-goes campaign increasingly centers on the bottom line in presidential nominating politics for challengers: electability.
He’s leaving it to independent PACs to rhetorically bludgeon his GOP rivals, campaigning with such prominent and respected supporters as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And though there are months and many primary elections to go, Romney already is running against Barack Obama.
That makes sense, given what could be the most important element in this past week’s CNN poll in Iowa.
Ron Paul leads Romney on most issues. But asked who had the best chance of beating Obama, Iowa Republicans made it clear: At 41 percent, Romney nearly triples Paul’s 14 percent. Asked who’s more “presidential,” Romney leads Paul by 6 points (25-19).
Other polls indicate Romney’s strength versus Obama as well.
As noted by Real Clear Politics, Romney is the only GOP hopeful who bests Obama in any of the recent polls (Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling). And on the Real Clear Politics polling average, Romney is much closer to Obama (1.6 percentage points), than Newt Gingrich (8.9 points), Rick Perry (12.5 points), Michele Bachmann (15 points), Rep. Paul (7.7 points), or Jon Huntsman (8.6 points).
As Obama’s favorability ratings creep upward, the relative strength of the challenger as measured by the somewhat ineffable “electability” becomes more important – hence Romney’s directly engaging Obama.
“I will be talking about his record and his failure, and he will be trying to make this a personal attack, which I think will sour the American people,” Romney told the Boston Herald. “One of the reasons people supported candidate Obama was his soaring vision for a more positive America, and he has now succumbed to the more base form of politics which is attacking individuals, dividing Americans and poisoning the spirit of leadership.”
If that sounds like Romney is offering his own version of “hope and change,” he is.
And while many conservatives see Gingrich as potentially the best debater to face the President once the nominating dust settles, the former House Speaker is fading fast, and many of those once drawn to him are turning to Romney.
“He’s one of my top two – him and Newt,” retired school principal Pat Sheets told the Washington Post at a coffee shop in Muscatine, Iowa. “We aren’t sure if Newt can win…. I think Romney is the person most likely to beat Obama – and, in my opinion, that’s the top objective. Newt has a lot of baggage. I like what Newt says, but I don’t want to waste my vote on somebody who can’t actually win.”
“We need to be able to nominate a candidate who we can not only be proud of, but will be able to sustain the kind of attacks that the Obama machine is going to throw at our candidate – somebody who’s tested, somebody who is not prone to gaffes and somebody who we can be proud of to win over independent voters and has a track record of doing it,” Illinois state Rep. Aaron Schock said in introducing Romney in Muscatine. “And that, in our race, is Governor Romney.”
“The only reason I’m supporting Romney is because he can win the election,” mobile home park owner Tim McCleary told the Post. “The sad reality is I’m a fairly conservative person, but you have to send them out east.”
Still, there are conservative holdouts continuing to insist that Romney is not electable.
Among them: He’s running weak in southern states; his record running Bain Capital; his Mormon religion; “he’s a proven political loser” having lost a US Senate race to Ted Kennedy and left office as Massachusetts governor with very low ratings.
“Mitt Romney was a moderate governor in Massachusetts with an unimpressive record of governance,” Hawkins writes. “He left office with an approval rating in the thirties and his signature achievement, Romneycare, was a Hurricane Katrina style disaster for the state. Since that’s the case, it’s fair to ask what a Republican who’s not conservative and can’t even carry his own state brings to the table for GOP primary voters.”
So far, however, that seems to be a minority view. The evidence on the ground in Iowa and elsewhere shows Romney’s campaign gaining strength as the nominating race finally enters the period when Republicans start choosing their champion to run against Obama.