Mitt Romney widens the electoral map for the GOP

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President Obama’s quest for reelection in 2012 could be a real battle in the trenches, but only if the GOP and its eventual presidential nominee are able to get their acts together. At this juncture, President Obama certainly has the upper hand, but if gas prices continue to rise and the economy does not improve, his hold on the Oval Office could be on life-support.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that “46 percent of Americans say Obama will definitely not get their vote — a number that suggests the president has little room for error in his effort to win reelection.” At the same time, the GOP cannot get ahead of itself, because the same survey data shows “about an equal percentage of Americans say they definitely won’t vote for Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee — the two Republicans and former presidential candidates that are leading in most primary polls.” For those who still believe the past predicts the future, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff notes that only two presidential incumbents since Herbert Hoover have lost reelection: Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H. W. Bush in 1992.

Earlier this week, Obama’s reelection campaign manager Jim Messina made it clear “that Democrats couldn’t rely on their 2008 game plan to win a second term for Obama in 2012.” As Messina describes it, one of the keys to winning in 2012 is for Obama is to “[e]expand the electorate.” Ironically, there is one GOP presidential frontrunner who is currently expanding the electoral map on Team Obama — Mitt Romney.

We all know the pluses (former governor, deep pockets, previously sought GOP nomination in 2008) and minuses (Romneycare and perceptions of Mormon faith) that will be in play during Romney’s GOP primary run. But there is one item that usually escapes the casual political handicapper: Romney’s appeal among independents. This group, which swung to Obama in 2008 and then to the GOP’s congressional candidates in 2010, will be the single most important voting block for either party in 2012. In two battleground states that had been trending blue — Michigan and New Hampshire — Romney has, at times, led President Obama in a hypothetical general election match-up largely because of his appeal among these voters.

Several polls show that Romney is also leading Obama in Florida, a state that is essentially a political microcosm of all the battleground states and a state that the eventual GOP nominee cannot lose if Republicans have any hope of winning the White House in 2012.

Make no mistake — Romney is far from being the first choice of many conservatives. At the risk of being labeled as “in the tank” for Romney, we’ll point out that our top priority remains the defeat of President Obama in 2012. If Romney is at the top of the GOP ticket in 2012, then conservatives will need to ask themselves one question: What will be the future of America if we allow President Obama a second term to push his agenda?

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.