So I’ve heard some rumors that a lot of you REALLY don’t want Mitt Romney as the nominee. If that’s the goal, what’s the best way of moving voters who are leaning towards Romney away from him?
Well, PPP has done us a service in providing a ton of cross-tabs in their last NH poll. They asked the question, “What is more important to you when deciding who to vote for: a candidate’s ability to beat Barack Obama in the general election, or their positions on the issues?”, to which 37% of voters answered electability, and 55% answered policies. Look more closely and you’ll find that Romney cleaned up among the former group: of those voters who answered electability, Romney won a whopping 55% (see page 11 of the crosstabs), whereas with those answering policies, Romney only took 20%, finishing in 3rd place behind Paul and Huntsman. If you look at it the other way around, 58% of Romney voters say that electability is most important, to only 32% who care more about policies (see page 22 of the crosstabs).
So it would seem the best way to peel Romney voters away is to convince them that a different candidate would be more electable. Which candidate should that be?
Well, I think we can surmise that Romney’s electability voters are looking for someone who seems reasonably able to appeal to swing voters, who can hold his own in a debate, and has a clean and strong record in government. (Isn’t that always what electability voters want?) Romney voters have a negative view of Perry (23-67) and Gingrich (34-56) but a relatively positive view of Santorum (48-39) and Huntsman (49-35) (see pages 17-19 of the crosstabs). I think it is clear that Gingrich’s ethics and Perry’s flubs have cost them major electorability points in the eyes of most Romney voters; they’ll have a hard time winning them back. Santorum doesn’t have the same flaws, but he doesn’t have a slam-dunk electorability argument, especially since he’s so associated with taking a hard-line stand on social issues and seems like he’s constantly having to explain himself on that front. (He’ll also be reminded of his last election if he tries to bring electability up.)
That leaves Huntsman. Huntsman has all of Romney’s perceived electorability strengths (an image that’s not hard-line conservative, no ethical issues, reasonably articulate) and none of Romney’s weaknesses (no flip-flopper reputation, no vulnerability to Wall Street job-cutting demagoguery, an ability to attack ObamaCare without having to sound horribly inconsistent), so it seems clear to me that he would be the candidate who has the most potential for eating into Romney’s numbers. I’d love it if he can make that case, along with reminding conservatives that he has a solid set of conservative positions, along with a great record as governor, and win the nomination. Even if you prefer some other non-Romney, however, you should hope that Huntsman stays reasonably strong so that he can cut into Romney’s base.