If you buy the current narrative being peddled by the media, then former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has all but won the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Admittedly, if I were to walk into a Las Vegas casino today and lay money down on a GOP candidate, even I would join The New York Times’s Ross Douthat and bet on Romney.
So Republicans across the country should just pack up right now and prepare to help Team Romney take on President Obama in the general, right? To borrow a phrase from famed ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend!”
While I have no particular dog in this fight, and my primary goal is to see President Obama defeated next November, two items continue to escape the mass media and most casual political observers masquerading as Republican primary experts.
First, according to a CNN/ORC poll (conducted Oct. 14-16), “only one-third of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say their minds are made up.” There’s still a fairly large percentage of undecideds — a fact that will likely cause Team Romney some sleepless nights.
Second, less than three months out from the first nominating contest, there’s still a large bloc of conservative GOP primary voters who oppose Romney. According to the latest WSJ/NBC poll (conducted Oct. 6-10), Georgia businessman Herman Cain is leading the field with 27% support, followed by Romney in second at 23% and then Texas Governor Rick Perry at 16%.
If we hark back to the previous iteration of this same WSJ/NBC poll (conducted Aug. 27-31), we find that Perry was leading the field at 38%, followed by Romney at 23% and then Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 9% (Herman Cain clocked in at 5%).
So what does all this tell us? Herman Cain found exactly what Rick Perry lost over this six-week period — 22 percentage points. Romney, on the other hand, has essentially flat-lined at 23%. According to WSJ/NBC Democratic pollster Peter Hart, “Romney is the remainder man candidate for the Republican party — acceptable, but not the first choice.”
So is Mitt Romney still the most likely candidate to win the GOP presidential nomination as of this week? Yes, thanks to superior campaign resources and a steady debating style. But if Romney is not able to get beyond his base (establishment Republicans) and find a way to appeal to social conservatives and tea partiers, and the anti-Romney voting bloc unites behind a single candidate rather than backing several competing candidates (e.g., Cain, Perry, Gingrich, etc.), Romney could lose the nomination.